We all know that feeling when we’ve eaten way too much; it’s the worst thing in the world. We sit there, stuffed and uncomfortable, slipping into a food coma, vowing that we’ll never do it again… but inevitably it happens. No need to despair. This is when we find relief in the wonderful world of the digestivo amari. The idea of after dinner digestive aids has its earliest roots in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, when they would steep stomach settling herbs and seeds in a liquid base. In Italy these evolved into the amari, initially crafted by monks centuries ago. There are actually over 300 to choose from and although the recipes vary and the ingredients are kept a secret, they all basically contain the same types of things: herbs, spices, and vegetables infused into alcohol. Some are very sweet, and some extremely bitter, and there are more than a few that hit you right in the throat and the chest like Vicks Vapor Rub. They generally contain a bit more alcohol that their apertivo counterparts, and they are often served neat or with just a bit of ice. Since the cocktail revolution hit the U.S, in the 90’s, both home and professional bartenders have been coming up with innovative ways to feature the amari in drink recipes.
Of the Amari that I’ve tried, the Montenegro that I’m sharing with you today is the one that I like the best. At least that’s true so far. 300 is a very big number! I’m not the only one who likes it; it’s Italy’s #1 best seller. The story here goes back over 130 years when a man named Stanislao Cobianchi from Bologna first developed the recipe, and named his Amaro after Princess Elena of Montenegro. Cobianchi’s original recipe contained 40 herbs and spices, as well as one secret ingredient that was not to be revealed. This is still true today. The result is a very versatile liqueur that works extremely with other spirits. Many of the amari are more commonly combined with Bourbon and Rye; this is not the case with the Montenegro. When you sip it, there’s a sweetness that you taste first that gives way to smoothness in the middle, until it finally ends on a bitter note. Its flavor profile is described on the website as having “a wide range of bittersweet flavors including orange peel, coriander and tea.” I suppose I can find those things if I look for them, but the thing that I taste the most, especially on the finish, is violets. I have to tell you that no other tasting notes that I’ve read list violets anywhere, but I still taste them! I’m thinking they are the secret ingredient that Cobianchi didn’t want us to know about. I’m on to him.
The recipe that I’ve chosen for today is something I’d seen a while back on Instagram. It interested me because of the tequila/lime/strawberry combo which made me think of a margarita, yet here it was with an Italian amari in it. The strawberry and lime blend very nicely with the flavors in the Montenegro (must be those violets), and the bittersweet edge of the Amari really helps to tone down that funky taste that tequila can have that many people don’t like. That makes this a nice cocktail for the non-tequila drinker. Think of it as an Italian Margarita. This recipe was adapted by @homebartendr after having this drink at Husk Restaurant in Charleston, SC.
Witchy Woman (from @homebartendr and Husk Restaurant, Charleston, SC)
1½ oz Espolon Blanco Tequila
1 oz Amaro Montenegro
Juice of ½ lime
Pinch of salt
Lime strip for garnishing
Muddle the strawberry and the lime juice in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the tequila, the Amaro Montenegro,and the pinch of salt. Add your ice (1 large cube, 2 small) and shake for 20 seconds until very cold. Double strain using a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime strip. Enjoy!