August 2011

A Rich Italian Legacy

By: Anthony Dias Blue
photos by Doug Young


The mere mention of Italy usually conjures images of lush rolling vineyards, Renaissance castellos and, of course, full glasses of robust wine. Yet don't sell the boot-shaped peninsula short. Against the background of the ubiquitous wine grape is the equally potent world of Italian spirits.

Amaro Montenegro, photographed at Roberta's in Brooklyn, NY.

Italy produces liqueurs—limoncello, sambuca, amaretto—as well as grappa and other brandies. But the country is probably best known for amaro, a unique class of spirits. Amaro means "bitter" in Italian, and these special spirits offer a blend of bitter botanicals combined with degrees of sweetness. They were originally created, like many other spirits, for medicinal purposes, particularly as an aid to digestion, but they have become popular as libations in their own right, whether sipped as after-dinner digéstifs or, increasingly, as ingredients in cocktails.

At the forefront of this nuanced and varied category stands the flavorful and history-rich Amaro Montenegro. Created in 1885 in Bologna by Italian manufacturer Stanislao Cobianchi, the herbal liqueur's name pays homage to the second queen of Italy, Princess Helen of Montenegro, and celebrates the day of her marriage to Italian sovereign Victor Emmanuel III. From its outset, the threads of Amaro Montenegro have been woven deeply into the vibrant tapestry of Italy's history. 

Since the birth of the brand 126 years ago, Amaro Montenegro has grown into not only the most respected, but also the top-selling brand of amaro in Italy. With a combination of a classic recipe, impeccable packaging and distinctive flavor and personality, it's easy to see why. The ultra-secretive recipe has not changed since 1885 and still blends more than 40 different macerated and distilled fruits, berries, herbs, roots and spices. Once these botanicals are steeped in alcohol, the concoction ages in casks and in bottle, allowing the unique flavors to fully blend and develop.

What sets Amaro Montenegro apart from most other amaros and after-dinner digestifs is its fine-tuned balance between sweet and bitter. With a lush nose of spice and orange peel, Amaro Montenegro immediately establishes its complexity and depth. This digestive presents a smooth and creamy texture with sweet, aromatic and elegantly bitter herbs.
Eddie Diaz, one of four owners of Roberta's in Brooklyn. "Amaro Montenegro is so complex and has so many flavors—it's one of the most rewarding things to get into."

Pronounced flavors of orange and caramel are also distinct on the palate. Showing impressive finesse, Amaro Montenegro features a lovely, unrivaled balance of restrained sweetness and zest.

Although usually enjoyed as an after-dinner digestif—either neat or on the rocks—the liqueur can also be used as a flavorful component in sophisticated cocktails. Try pairing it with ginger ale or passion fruit liqueur and blood oranges for a complex and tasty libation.

With a taste as rich as its history, Amaro Montenegro celebrates Italian culture and has earned its place of distinction and veneration in the fast-paced world of spirits.

Amaro Montenegro is imported by Vias Imports.

Brooklyn Hipcode

A hipster hangout in a pioneering artist's neighborhood might be the last place you'd expect to find a storied brand like Amaro Montenegro. But when that place is Roberta's—as beloved for revolutionary spirits as its locavore pizzeria—nothing surprises. 

 "There was a lot of attitude about that, which we don't take too well," said Eddie Diaz, one of Roberta's four tattooed owners. "People would ask what we were doing with amaro, and I'd ask, 'What century are you in?'"

Locavore pizzas at Roberta's in Brooklyn.

Diaz says he got into Montenegro Amaro a few years ago, using it as a digestive after a steady diet of heavy meals at his former place of employment, illustrious Italian eatery Otto—lightyears away from Roberta's digs in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood. The restaurant, housed in a former garage with sprawling add-ons, has its own backyard garden, rooftop apiary and home-grown foodie radio network (

But he praises it for more than its medicinal properties. "One of the coolest things about Montenegro is you never really know what's in it; it's a family recipe, protected for hundreds of years," he said. "It's so complex and has so many flavors-it's one of the most rewarding things to get into."

Diaz uses Amaro Montenegro as the base of a cocktail called "Beginner's Luck," an aperitif he serves to VIP tables. "It's Robert's way of welcoming you to the table, but I leave it open to the interpretation of the bartender." His twist? The perfect zest. "There are two ways to add citrus: You can complement the drink or contrast it," says Diaz. "It's very important to get the spray in the drink-that goes a long way and will really work for you."  —Lana Bortolot

No beginner himself, Eddie Diaz of Roberta's is in the throes of creating his special Amaro Montenegro-based Beginner's Luck cocktail.
Beginner's Luck

created by Eddie Diaz, Roberta's, Brooklyn, NY

1 dash Angostura bitters
1 oz. Amaro Montenegro
4 oz. Prosecco
Citrus zest

Line the glass with a dash of Angostura bitters. Add the Amaro Montenegro, then add Prosecco. Use a generous zest of either orange or a grapefruit, squeezing the rind to release the oils before dropping it into the glass.

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