Amaro. Digestif. Liqueur. Whatever you call it, you can call this style of drink cool as all get-out right now as more and more drinkers around the world discover the glories of herbal spirits. Sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, “Amaro” refers specifically to liqueurs made in Italy, but there are variations made in different countries across Europe, especially Switzerland, Germany, and France. Some of these spirits, like Campari and Jagermeister, have long had a home on bar shelves around the world. Others are enjoying a new flush of interest, like Fernet Branca and Underberg, are darlings of the new global bartender set, where they function as a sort of handshake for those in-the-know.
Allow us to drop some good news on you: Amaro, and its digestif cousins around the world, make marvelous bedfellows with cold brew, itself a beverage movement very much to trend in the coffee drinking world. Love it or hate it—we’re in the former camp—cold brew is one of the hottest things going in coffee today, and it pairs beautifully with this plucky little family of liqueurs.
There may be no beverage pairing more 2016 than cold brew and Amaro. To get some specific pairing tips, we teamed up with amaro expert Amanda Whitt, a New York City-based barista and cocktailer seen previously on Sprudge for her delicious sparkling cascara soda recipe at Everyman Espresso. Whitt is a veteran of Double Buzz, the innovative coffee cocktail brunch service at East Village amaro & bitters temple Amor y Amargo, and she’s holding it down now at Dromedary, a tiki bar in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. We join her there along with NYC-based photographer and videoist Lanny Huang, who shot this photo set for Sprudge.
First things first, a simple three-step set of suggestions on how to pair cold brew with various amari.
1.Take out two glasses.
2. Pour a little amaro in one, and a little coffee in the other, or you can just drink the coffee straight out of the bottle. You do you.
3. Taste the amaro, and add ice if you so desire, but most taste better room temperature or with a light chill. But also, I’m not your mom, and this is your house so live your best life.” —Amanda Whitt
Slingshot Coffee & Southern Amaro Liqueur
Our first pairing features two delightful beverages hailing form the Carolinas: Slingshot Coffee from Raleigh and Southern Amaro from Charleston’s High Wire Distilling.”The combination of this full-bodied and naturally sweet bottled coffee and an amaro bursting with sarsparilla are a match made in heaven…or in this case the Carolinas.”
Pairing difficulty status: APPROACHABLE.
Buzz phrase: ‘Sarsparilla Sunrise’
Alternate tipple: Jelínik Fernet from the Czech Republic, “for a little more of a gingerbread-cookie vibe,” in case you can’t find the small-batch stuff from High Wire.
Blue Bottle NOLA & Averna
Blue Bottle Coffee‘s huggable, chuggable retro childhood milk box of NOLA cold brew comes pre-sweetened and infused with chicory—and you can find it now in good grocery stores across the United States. That sweetness reminded our expert of an “almond-y madeline cookie dipped in coffee,” and so she paired it up with Averna, a much-loved liqueur from Sicily. The end result evokes “rich, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.” Yes please.
Pairing difficulty status: ADULT DESSERT
Buzz phrase: ‘No Cookie Tonight in My Coffee’
Alternate tipple: Averna is widely available and distributed by Campari, so just go with it.
Olympia Coffee Roasting’s Amaro Gayo & Zucca
Some of our favorite cold brew on the market gets made in little tiny batches by the folks at Olympia Coffee Roasting Company in Olympia, Washington. We’re featuring two of their brews in this pairing guide, and first up it’s the Amaro Gayo Ethiopia, paired with Zucca, an Italian digestif based on rhubarb, cardamom, and citrus zest. “I’ve always loved this coffee paired with this amaro,” says Whitt. “The combination of dried fruit and earthy notes of Zucca and the crisp fresh berry flavors of the coffee combine gloriously.”
Pairing difficulty status: INTERMEDIATE
Buzz phrase: ‘Afternoon Delight’.
Alternate tipple: Amaro Sfumato, a rare amaro from Trentino that uses roasted Chinese rhubarb.
Olympia Coffee Roasting’s Big Truck & Montenegro
The second of Oly Coffee’s cold brews in this set, this cold brew expression of their flagship Big Truck blend is getting paired with Amaro Montenegro, a liqueur from Bologna with big notes of vanilla and orange. Whitt calls this drink’s flavor an “orange flower blast,” and it pairs nicely with the underlying orange notes of Big Truck. Together the pairing “emphasizes the citrus while adding a creamy softness that will allow for the full character of the coffee to play out.”
Pairing Difficulty Status: A GREAT INTRO
Buzz Phrase: ‘Hey Mr Tangerine Man’
Alternate tipple: Amaro Del Capo, from a century-old family-run distillery in Calabria.
Stumptown Cold Brew Stubby & Amaro Sibilla
We’re also featuring two Stumptown Cold Brew offerings in this dazzling pairings set, starting off the brand’s classic original recipe CB, bottled in a delightful stubby like the Olympia Beer stubs of yore. Whitt paired that up with Amaro Sibilla, a spirit hailing from the Marche region of eastern Italy. “The bracing punch of this amaro matches with the overall strength and assertiveness of this cold brew,” says Whitt, who notes that the gentian flower, coca and dark spices “coalesce into flavors that are much more seasonally appropriate than each independently.” What better time to be bitter?
Pairing Difficulty Status: DARK AND WILD
Buzz Phrase: ‘Bitter Not-That-Sweet Symphony’
Alternate tipple: Amaro Nardini, another amaro with gentian as a major flavor component.
Stumptown Winter Cheer and Jägermeister
Take it away, Amanda Whitt:
“Look, I understand if you are afraid to walk into your cool friend’s Christmas party with the cool secret Elvis Costello Christmas album playing where everyone is discussing their CSA plans for next year with a bottle of Jäger, but you really should. Trust Me. I dare you.
Winter Cheer might very well be the Stumptown’s version of a PSL, minus much of the hallmark sweetness. Match that with the anise and dark bitter notes of Jäger and you are truly golden. ”
Pairing Difficulty Status: PARTY ON
Buzz Phrase: “We Said Party On”
Alternate tipple: Killepitsch, another liqueur from Germany. Ostensibly less bro-y than Jager, and also extremely blood red in color. For the Christmas goth on your list.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
Amanda Whitt (@imakeyourcoffee) contributed to this reporting.
Photos by Lanny Huang for Sprudge Media Network.