Tag Archives: digestifs



Averna is an amaro, one of the charming Italian bitter liqueurs that are hugely popular with certain groups of people, and nearly unknown to others. Campari is the most popular amaro, and just this week, Campari purchased the Averna brand to include in their catalog of liqueurs.

Here’s a question I haven’t answered yet at Simple Cocktails: why bitter? Mrs. Simple Cocktails refers to bitter as a flavor “she tries to avoid,” yet amari are unique drinks as they can be served as both aperitifs and digestifs. An aperitif is meant to whet your appetite before dinner, and aperitifs are usually dry and bitter. Bitterness causes your tongue to salivate, effectively preparing your mouth to eat. A digestif is meant to finish your meal with both sweetness and aiding digestion. Because amari are bitter and sweet, they fit both definitions, and they’re a fun cocktail ingredient as well.

Amari can have a wide variety of dominant flavors, from vegetal (Cynar) to herbal (Fernet Branca) to citrusy (Aperol). Averna is a sweet cola-like experience, almost like root beer. It’s tasty combination of cherry and coffee, too, and actually leaves a little tingle on your tongue just like soda. It’s closest amaro comparison would be Fernet Branca, though it’s not minty and is much less bitter.

Averna is the most accessible amari that I’ve had yet, and it’s great on the rocks after dinner, or a shot in a glass of club soda makes a great, natural, old-timey “soda.” It’s earned a permanent place in my home bar.

What’s an Amaro?

aperol cynar campari

Amaros are already very popular in the craft bartending scene, so it’s a good idea to get you home bartenders on board as well. An “amaro” is an Italian bitter liqueur, usually meant as a aperitif (before-dinner drink) or digestif (after-dinner drink). I realize that I talk about bitters all the time, but remember there are 2 types of bitters: drinkable and non-drinkable. Angostura bitters are meant as a cocktail flavoring, you’d never pour a bunch on ice and drink it straight. Amaros are drinkable bitters, though.

There are a long list of Amaros, but 3 of the most popular are Campari, Aperol, and Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar). The bitterness of these helps to offset the sweetness that liqueurs have, and all three of these are good served over ice, mixed with club soda, or in a cocktail.

Campari you’ll recognize as an essential ingredient for the Negroni. It’s electric red, slightly bitter (think orange rind bitter), but also quite sweet and low in alcohol (about 20%).

Aperol is similar to Campari, though it’s lower in alcohol (11%) and more orangey, both in color and flavor. It’s very refreshing and easy to drink, and I use it as a substitute for Campari in a Negroni, or just serve it over ice after dinner.

Cynar is a dark, herbal liqueur that’s 13% alcohol. It’s primary flavor is artichoke – note the glorious artichoke logo on the bottle above. The flavor of Cynar reminded me a little bit of Fernet Branca, minus the mintiness, or maybe like a less sweet Jagermeister. It’s an herbal, slightly syrupy, drink with a dry, clean finish. Drink Spirits recommends it as a top 10 liquor to carry in a flask.

Here’s a Cynar recipe, a take on a Manhattan, originally published in Imbibe Magazine:

Little Italy

  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • stir on ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with 2 cherries