Thursday, May 28, 2009

Amaro Montenegro and Bitters in general...

I have, of late, rekindled my fascination with amari.

I have always been intrigued by them, but recently they returned to front of mind when I was researching the entire category of bitters/amari. That got me back into dabbling in mixology once again (these things go in cycles, dontcha know), particularly the use of bitters in cocktails

Bitters have certainly come back into the international cocktail scene, thank the gods. They add intriguing components of both aroma and flavor that can enhance the necessary balance of a good cocktail, and they keep the mind and the mouth from being fatigued by the sugars and alcohols.

I suppose I have the “Standard Plus” set up in my liquor cabinet---the obligatory Angostura, of course, with Peychaud’s and Regan’s Orange Bitters as the base set. The biggest addition is the line up of Fee Brothers Bitters, including their version of Old Fashioned Bitters, which contains angostura bark (which, oddly enough, Angostura Brand does not!), Lemon Bitters, a luscious Peach Bitters, and the wonderful Grapefruit Bitters (!!!). The Fee Brothers Mint Bitters I’m not so fond of---if it’s mint, I want it fresh. And the Cherry Bitters? Bit sweet; not the right balance for me. Tried Stirrings, but immediately rejected them: almost cloying in their sweet base, and singularly without complexity or interest. Good marketing; mediocre product.

But the amaro that was the most astounding find---well, re-discovery, but it has been so long, it’s like a find---was the Amaro Montenegro. I cannot for the life of me understand why this incredible beverage is virtually unknown in the United States market. For such a concoction, which is in a category of its own in Europe, pretty much an icon, to be the occasion of shrugs and blank looks here, is bewildering to me.

Made in honor of Princess Elena of Montenegro (and, hey, don’t we all remember her so fondly?) this venerable European staple is the standby-goto when I’m looking for bitter. Or would be, if I could find a steady supply of it here. Which I can’t. Last found it in Canada, when I snagged some and brought it back in my luggage. And wouldn’t that have been something to break in transit!?!? But alas and alack, there’s alas a lack around here. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the low volume that means it is of low interest to importers. Maybe it’s in that ‘tween category, the death zone of the retail store, when you’re not quite sure if you should put it in the Liqueur section or in the Condiments and Barware section, so it gets lost and eventually ends up in the Closeout Bin.

In contrast to my usual style, I won’t even attempt to describe the myriad aromas and flavors steeped into this elixir. You’ll have to ferret out some for yourself. Let’s just say it will be worth the effort if you do. It is one of the most complex and compelling beverages I’ve ever had, suitable for singular consumption (which, to me, takes it out of the Bitters/Mixers category only) but eminently useful for mixing as well. Like fine wine---well, maybe like fine wine on steroids---it has an incredible nose (spices/herbs/undefinable other things), followed by an astonishing mid-palate of awesomely bitter intensity tempered with slowly emerging nuances of flavor seeping out from that, and lingering with surprising delicacy for quite the longest time.

You should get some. If you can. And if you can, would you please tell me where?


  1. Check out suburban wines in Yorktown Heights NY for this, just picked up a bottle.

  2. Good to know it's selling somewhere! I figured New York would have it. And a friend told me Chicago had it. Tried last week to find some when I was in Milwaukee, but no dice.

    Even contacted the regional manager for the Northwest for the importer----never heard back from him. The funny thing is, I can go up to Vancouver, B.C. and get the stuff. Just can't get in here!

  3. Hello, I am way after your post(s), but I purchased mine at Bay Cities Italian Market in Santa Monica, CA. Also K&L Wines (in both Hollywood and San Francisco, CA) stocks it.

  4. Never too late, Adri! Good to hear the Montenegro Amaro is at least in California. Maybe someday it will make it up here to Oregon (we can hope). Shame it's not here: I think there would be an eager market for it.

  5. I bought a bottle at South Lyndale in Minneapolis. They have a great selection of Amari. Nonino and Bassano are super good and worth trying too, if you can get them.