Bitter sweet symphony
The Italian word amaro translates as bitter. As a drink, served at the end of a meal, it pretends helping to digest. Unlike wine it is not a daily served product. Restaurants may offer it. Or make you pay for one. Heavy eating in general calls for amaro. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, dinner parties, Sunday lunches. The bottle of amaro coming out is like seeing the checkered flag at the end of a race.
There is no doubt herbs – specific herbs – have healing properties. And going over the ingredients of most bottles, hopes are high. Some producers highlight a specific herb while other go for quantity. The syrup like consistency is another wink to health and well being. Oddly enough nobody ever served it in a spoon. The color ranges from hazelnut to pitch black. Sugar, as Mary Poppins told us, helps the medicine go down. Many of the nowadays amaro’s originate indeed from pharmacies and monasteries.
Amaro or not amaro
Most Italians have a preference in amaro. Choosing a brand is a serious enterprise. Do you let loose of the parochialism and let taste prevail? And do you want your bitter to be really bitter? If you are new to amaro, don’t worry. Bars and restaurants display a whole range. Waiters and barmen will, if you can’t make your mind up, happily advice you.
Italian feasts finish with fireworks. After the meat or fish dish come the sweets. If you are in Sicily, be prepared for a surprise. The variety of pastry is so overwhelming you’ll be sorry. A cassata cake coming to the table after an Easter lunch is little less than criminal. Next comes fruit. The healthy touch. In formal occasions people get up from the table to drink coffee elsewhere. Nothing happens if you are unable to stand up and remain seated at the table. Only after coffee the amaro comes up. Some joke – do they?- it eliminates the taste of coffee.
The peculiar taste – and consistency – did not escape the partiers. Amaro is no longer bound to its role as plunger after a copious meal. Night life is the new scene. Served straight or mixed up, it is part of the drinking repertoire now. Various companies are shifting their target attention. Gluttonous middle age men are now joined by dynamic young people. That is what I’d call a challenge for advertisers. Shall we drink to that?