How to make amaro – a basic recipe

If you’re just joining us, we’ve written a few posts about amari and touched on bitters and vermouth. The popularity of amaro continues to grow, and I’m pleased to have informed other tipplers about its enjoyment. I’ve taken on producing my own because it’s fun, creative and they’re really, really good!

I’ve provided a lot of data in earlier posts on creating my own amaro, but it is a lot to digest. So, if creating a simple amaro is your desire too, here are the basics from my “experienced” perspective.

Use these ingredients in the order shown. This will produce roughly 1 liter of amaro in about 2-3 weeks.

A. Base spirit – (choose one)
1.   2 cups of grain alcohol (beverage-grade ethanol) of 75% or 95%
– OR-
2.   3 cups of neutral dry brandy — you don’t want something too sweet (note: this will produce an amaro that is immediately more similar to those found in the stores).
– OR –
3.   3 cups of vodka

B. Phase one – Bittering agents (soak for 5 – 7 days in 75% or higher spirit, up to 2 weeks in vodka or brandy)
1. 1 tsp of one or more of each the following dried roots: gentian root, angelica root, wormwood, orris root, galangal root, burdock root

C. Phase two – Flavoring agents
(remove bittering agents above and soak the ingredients below for 2 – 3 days – except star anise – see below)
1.  1 vanilla bean or tbsp of vanilla bean extract
2.   1-1/2 tsp Juniper berries (dried) approx 10-14 berries)
3.   4 cardamom pods
4.   4 cloves
5.   1 tsp dried orange peel
6.   1 cinnamon stick
7.   1 sprig of rosemary (about 20 -30 leaves)
8.   4-5 peppermint leaves
9.   4-5 fresh sage, or 2-3 dried sage leaves
10.   1/4 tsp saffron
11.   1 tsp lemon balm (melissa oficianalis)
12.   1 star anise – soak for 1-2 days and test. Star anise has an intense flavor and will overpower your mixture very quickly if you’re not careful. Keep infusing to taste.

Strain and remove the solids. Proceed to the next phase.

D. Phase three – Sweetening/diluting agents

1 to 1-1/2 cups Simple syrup
1 cup distilled water
1 cup white vermouth (bianco vermouth)

You’re going to want to be careful with adding sweetener because it will both dilute your liqueur (and throw any hydrometer or alcoholometer measurements way off) and thicken it. I recommend a 1:1 mixture of simple syrup and distilled water.  Do the math before adding the water.  If you’re using 2 cups 95% spirits and add 1 cup of simple syrup, 1 cup of distilled water and 1 cup of vermouth (at about 18% ABV), you will produce a mixture of 5 cups at roughly 40%. Once the mixture has been mixed, begin tasting. This is your baseline. Add more simple syrup as needed.

E. Phase four – Mellowing and coloring agents

1. Add mixture to small oak barrel and let it rest for 1 – 3 months, OR add toasted oak chips (about 3 tbsp) to mixture, and soak for up to 4 weeks

Strain and remove the oak chips and any remaining solids.

Depending on the toast of the barrel or oak chips, your amaro will darken beautifully. If after the mellowing period you wish to darken it further, you will need to create caramel coloring by heating granulated or brown sugar in a pan on the stovetop and dilute CAREFULLY and SLOWLY with boiling water. Add up to 1 oz of caramel coloring to darken your amaro more.

Finishing touches
See the fining process in an earlier post if the mixture is too cloudy to your liking. You can let it settle for a few days and try to siphon off the clearer liqueur above any sediment.
Once it is clear, bottle it up. It will be certainly drinkable now, but will continue to mellow over the next few months. Store it in a cool dark cupboard.

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21 thoughts on “How to make amaro – a basic recipe

  1. Hi, I have made your Amaro recipe as above using gentian, angelica and burdock in a base of 2 cups brandy and 1 cup of 100 proof vodka. Currently in Phase 3, the mixture has mellowed considerably with the addition of oak chips about a week ago. The color is already quite dark, and I have been tasting it along the way. In fact, one evening I took a little in a small port glass over ice and added tonic water and lemon. It was amazing.
    Before I move on to Phase 4, I would like to confirm the simple syrup ratio that you used was 1:1 water to sugar. In the Bitters book I saw that some simple syrups have a higher sugar ratio.
    I also wanted to confirm that I should add simple syrup, distilled water and Vermouth in equal parts. There are 2.5 cups of liquid soaking with the oak chips.
    Thanks for posting this recipe. I originally became interested in making amaro when I read the Serious Eats post. It is interesting to combine different sources. I have made medicinal bitters before, but this is my first attempt at a digestif.

  2. Hi Jackie,

    I’m glad you’re sampling your amaro – it’s awfully hard to resist while it’s developing all of its flavors! And thanks for the question. I’m going to temper my original recipe with some different suggestions.

    I generally create a simple syrup according to the most common recipe (probably the same that’s in the Bitters book) – 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. As I reviewed my recipe, I can see it’s a little confusing.The 1:1 ratio I was referring to was the 2:1 simple syrup to distilled water – for amaros that I’ve created, it has worked out well, but I will admit that it isn’t a hardfast rule. You may ultimately decide upon a different ratio.

    The original recipe as written used 1 part of (2:1) simple syrup to 1 part distilled water to 1 part bianco vermouth.

    What I didn’t mention in the recipe is that some people find some bianco vermouths (Martini & Rossi, e.g.) to have too much of a thyme or oregano flavor. You can use the vermouth to dilute the simple syrup instead of adding it as a whole separate component – but you’ll have to experiment with that. You may also decide to leave the vermouth out altogether (I’ve done that with subsequent batches).

    The key here is to carefully sweeten your amaro to taste, but maintain the desired alcohol content. It can be a bit of a dance, but I always start by getting the desired sweetness. Keep track of how much you’re adding. Add as much of the syrup to get the desired sweetness, but avoid dropping your concentration below 70 proof (or 35%% by volume) if you can avoid it. It doesn’t allow for much adjustment.

    I find that trying to control the proof of the final mixture can be tricky. I always start with a hydrometer to get the base percentage of alcohol. If you don’t have one, you can calculate it. In your case you’re starting with 100 proof vodka and probably 80 proof brandy. If you combine those, you’re ending up with roughly 43% alcohol by volume:

    working backwards here….
    1 cup of 100 proof Vodka = 4 oz ethanol + 4 oz liquid = 8 oz at 50% (alc by vol)
    2 cups 80 proof brandy = 6.4 oz ethanol + 9.6 oz liquid = 16 oz at 40% (ABV)

    Added together, your resulting solution is 10.4 oz ethanol + 13.6 oz liquid:
    10.4 oz / 24 oz = 24 oz (3 cups) at 43% alcohol by volume (86 proof).

    After sampling, it sounds like you’ve ended up with 2.5 cups at 43%. That means that you have 8.6 oz of ethanol.

    Since you want to have a finished percentage between 25% and 35%, you’re going to need to add between 4.5 oz (35% ABV) and 14.5 oz (25% ABV) of syrup and water. I would begin by adding 2 oz of simple syrup, bringing your concentration to about 38% ABV. Taste and see if it is sweet enough. If it is nowhere even close, add more simple syrup to a maximum of either 4.5 oz (for 70 proof) or something less than 14.5 oz (for 50 proof (that would be unpleasantly sweet). Once there, add the remaining liquid in the form of distilled water and or bianco vermouth to match your desired strength. In my experience, this worked out to 1:1:1 simple syrup to distilled water to vermouth. Your taste may differ.

    Hopefully, this make sense. I’m still experimenting myself, every batch is provides a bit more education.

    I may add another post on calculating solutions and alcohol content shortly.

    Again, thanks for the question. Please add another comment sometime and let us know how it turns out. Cheers!

  3. Hi Kurt,
    Thank you for your detailed response! I wanted to let you know that my first batch of amaro has turned out better than I was expecting. It is actually delightful to drink after dinner. I was afraid it may be too bitter for general consumption, but Phase 4 turned it into a truly accessible digestif, full of powerful herbs, but not overpowering.

    I appreciate the level of detail in your recipes, and I look forward to reading about more of your endeavors. The whole process was so enjoyable, I am thinking about the next batch already. Over the summer, I met an herbalist at my Farmer’s Market who also makes his own Amaro. I brought him a sample of mine – and he loved it. I will forward this link to him. Thanks for sharing your recipe through this blog. While it was not a quick process, it was certainly fascinating to see so many humble ingredients transform into something special.

  4. Hi Jackie,

    Congratulations on a great review of your amaro! …from a fellow craftsperson no less!

    I’m always interested to hear what herbs others are using in their amari. If you have the time, let me know. Maybe I can publish a table of herbal components for experimenting and comments.

    Keep creating!
    Kurt

  5. Hi Kurt,

    I’ve been hunting around for a do-it-yourself amaro post and I think yours looks like the best. I can hardly believe how incredibly thorough you’ve been. Your trial and error is reassuring and has given me the confidence to give it a shot. I do have a few questions if you have a bit of spare time to help.

    -If I choose to use more than one bittering agent, do I add 1 teaspoon of each, or is it 1 teaspoon of bittering agents total?
    -Do I need to spring for Boyd and Blair’s Professional Vodka (151 proof and $55 – ouch!) or do you think Everclear (151 proof – $20) will be just fine?
    -I have Vya’s Extra Dry Vermouth and Carpano’s Bianco Vermouth. I think the Carpano is actually slightly sweet so I wasn’t sure if it was ok to use that one or not. Thoughts?
    -Do you have a recommended online shop for acquiring the more obscure roots and botanicals? I was checking out mountainroseherbs.com, but if you know of a better place, let me know.

    Hope to hear back from you. Thanks!

    -Michael Okusa

  6. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for visiting and getting in touch. I’ll answer your questions in order (based upon my experience)…
    1. Use one teaspoon of each bittering agent. Some impart more interesting flavors, and you want to make sure that they add to the complexity of the finished product. I will add a caveat here and say that there are some agents that are very strong and tend to overpower the subtle mixture – orris root is one, for example. You might want to add only 1/2 or 1/4 teaspoon of those. Sometimes you can identify the stronger flavors just by the smell of the dried root.

    2. The most important quality of a neutral spirit is that it should be as neutral as possible. I always use Everclear because it is the cleanest and purest neutral spirit that’s both fairly easily obtainable where I live, and economical. (In fact, by diluting Everclear to 40% ABV with distilled water, I can create a neutral vodka that is no less smooth than the Ketel Ones, or Belvederes or any of the other expensive vodkas). Boyd and Blair’s Professional Vodka is very good, but definitely a waste of money in creating your own liqueur. That said, there are some areas where Everclear is perhaps more difficult to procure – Boyd and Blair might be the only alternative. If you use a cheaper vodka, you may want to run it through a charcoal filter to remove any harshness.

    3. Vya vermouth is delicious and good even on its own. If you feel it has a quality that appeals to your palate in an amaro, by all means use it. I like Carpano’s also because it isn’t as blatantly thyme-y or kitchen-herbal as a Martini and Rossi.

    However, I am going to backtrack a little on my previous post and tell you that I’ve created my most appealing and popular amaro without any vermouth – dry, sweet or bianco. The purpose of using vermouth is to pull in a subtle but not necessarily overly discernible wine/grape touch to the liqueur. It floats above the complex tastes providing a slightly mysterious familiarity to the palate. Your mouth welcomes the essence, but isn’t exactly sure why…(again – just based upon my experience). But again, my most savored amaro leaves it out. I found that I can get nearly the same subtlety with the faux brandy recipe.

    4. I’m fortunate in that Seattle has two great botanical shops in town – “Dandelion Botanicals” and “Tenzing Momo”. I think both have an online store, but anyplace that can sell dried herbs and roots will do. The prices vary from $1 to $8 per ounce of roots and herbs. If you’re seeing things that are much more expensive than that, I would shop around. Mountainroseherbs.com has a very nice selection. Their prices seem quite reasonable.

    If you have a hard time finding the herbs that you want to work with, another suggestion is to find a tea that you really like and start with that. The picture on the blog background is of my Amaro di Bergamot which turned out fantastic. It was made by steeping Earl Grey tea (hence bergamot) in a little bit of water to make a highly concentrated tea, and that was then added to my bittering agents. I complemented the tea with a few choice additions (a little anise and orange peel among others). It worked beautifully. The result is reminiscent of Amaro Montenegro and Meletti Amaro. And it was easy (nothing wrong with easy!).

    I hope these answered your questions satisfactorily. Most of all, do experiment with your supplies and make something that is unique and appealing. I sometimes start with two batches of bitter spirits so that I can really experiment and explore with one, and use the other for a tried and true formula. Have fun and good luck!

    Kurt

  7. Hey, thanks for the incredibly prompt and thorough reply. I’m getting ready to order some Everclear from Hi-Time cellars online so I should be on my way in a week or two. I’m so excited to make my own Amaro; I can hardly wait to get started! Thanks for all the info!

  8. Hi Kurt!

    Amaro is done! It reminds me of Suze in color and orangey-ness. It seemed hot, intensely bitter and angry at first, but about 50 days later with time to mellow, absorb raisiny sweetness, and pseudo oak age it has really improved. This was my first attempt and I’m really proud of the final result. Kind of feel like a rock star right now. Eager to try again and achieve a different flavor profile. Maybe something darker next time – chocolate, coffee, cacao, chili. Mole-inspired amaro?

    Here is my process for batch #1:
    Day 1: Monday Feb. 10 – Infuse 1 tsp each: Gentian, Angelica, Wormwood, Burdock, Licorice, Quassia, Orris, Wild cherry Bark, Rhubarb Root, Heather Flower. 2 cups Everclear (151 proof) in 1/2 gallon mason jar.
    Day 8: Monday – Strain out bittering agents and add 4 tsp Bitter Orange, 1 Cinnamon stick, 4 clove, 4 Cardamom pod, 14 Juniper berries, 1 tsp Anise seed, 1/4 tsp Fennel Pollen, 1 tsp Hyssop, 1 tsp Lemon Balm, 3 leaves Dried Sage, 20 leaves Dried Rosemary, 2 Bay leaves, 1 Tongan Vanilla Bean, 3/4 tsp Dried Peppermint tea.
    Day 11: Wednesday – Add 1 Star Anise
    Day 12: Friday – Strain out flavoring ingredients and add 1 cup water, 1.5 cups simple syrup, 1 cup Carpano Bianco Vermouth, Strain through cheesecloth, Strain through Chemex filter. Add 1 Oak Stave, 1 cup raisins.
    Day 50: Strain out oak stave and raisins, bottle.

    Cannot even begin to thank you enough for the awesome base recipe and insider tips! A couple tweaks here and there but you deserve all the credit, truly. Thank you so much 🙂

    • Hi Michael,

      I was on vacation and didn’t get a chance to reply to your comment before now. All I can say is Bravo!!! Congratulations, both on creating your amaro, AND on becoming your own expert! Your list of ingredients has a little more variety than the recipes that I’ve been creating, and it looks fantastic. I’d suggest “upping” volume of your next batch so that you can bottle more of your creation and allow others to experience its magic.

      The best part of this whole journey from my experience is that your taste buds become more refined with each batch (I always save a bottle of every batch for posterity), and as they evolve, your creations become even more amazing. If you’re gifting bottles to friends (or local bartenders), they invariably share in the excitement. And they’ll ask you time and time again – “When does your next amaro come out?”

      A true story…

      In Seattle where I live, there are a couple of distilleries already making their own amari, and I’ve had a chance to sample some of them. I won’t cite any names, but I was surprisingly very disappointed in one distillery’s production. They have more than one amaro and I tried four of them. They were very light-bodied and one variety was even very harsh – it tasted a little like pumpkin spices and irritated the back of my throat with a “cinnamon-y” burn. It went too far above and beyond bitter. I could see it being used as a component of a cocktail but not much more. What a disappointing destiny for an amaro! At the same time, the bar that featured it was very proud of the fact that it was a locally-made amaro…until on a later visit I brought the bartender a small bottle of mine. We tasted both side by side, and it was clear that there was much more finesse and attention to detail in the amaro that I created. The bartender was absolutely taken with the flavor and asked if I was going into production. All I’d say about that now is that I’ve danced with the idea. But my point is, creating your own liqueur out of the love of creativity and honoring your own palate produces far superior results than those in mass production who are merely trying to fill a niche.

      Michael, thanks so much for sharing details of your amaro. It sounds absolutely sublime. And by all means, get going on those cacao or coffee flavor experimentations. The world awaits!

      Kurt

      • I’m curious about your use of raisins in the final step – what made you choose to use them? I’m about to be at phase 4 (waiting for my oak chips to arrive in the mail) and am now considering adding some sort of dried fruit as well – blueberries??

      • The reason I use raisins is because they have a mellow, not tart, sweetness. They remind me of a new un-aged brandy – one that hasn’t spent time in an oak barrel.

        Dried fruits always impart a richness to the final flavors. If you want a little more tartness to your liqueur, then blueberries might be just the thing.

    • Hi Whitney,

      That’s a good question, but one I probably can’t answer satisfactorily. Some of the most appealing amari to me are those that have a hint of tannin flavor over the very subtle vanilla notes reminiscent of a good brandy or Armagnac. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t impart too much flavor, but has some characteristic you find appealing, grappa might be just the thing. Grappa can range from extremely harsh to smooth and exotic. It is probably the driest of brandies or grape distillations, but the good ones are quite pricey.

      I hesitate to recommend specific brandies because I’m really not a brandy connoisseur; and there’s a part of me that still balks at the idea of taking a fine, expensive spirit and concealing it in something else. HOWEVER…if you feel you have an experienced or refined palate and you’re after a particular flavor or texture that a good brandy or grappa gives you, I would absolutely go for it. Who knows? It could be the difference between a tasty amaro and an exquisite, transcendental elixir.

      I wish I could give you a better answer.

      Kurt

    • That’s an interesting idea. Rum would add that characteristic sweetness, though what you would get with 151 probably wouldn’t be too overpowering. It would be interesting to see how it blends with the bitter or savory flavors. Brandy is a nice base for amaro, so I could see light rum notes being similar. Let us know how it turns out.

      • Hi Kurt,
        I recently follower your basic amaro recipe and had thought it turned out great! It was cloudy after I strained out the oak and I thought that was probably normal. It remained cloudy for a couple weeks and then a layer of green stuff formed on top and below was clear. I tried to strain it again into another container and the material is now suspended in the liquid in small blobs of green while the clear liquid around it is a beautiful golden color. Is this a fungus or do I need to strain the liquid through something finer like cheesecloth? Have you experienced this before?
        Thanks!

      • Hi Carl,

        Thanks for the question. Cloudy specks and blobs are almost always an emulsion of oils that have been extracted from your ingredients. They’re harmless, but unsightly as you really get into making your own amaro.

        I’ve described in other posts on this site methods I use to “fine” my amaro. You can try cheesecloth, but I’m betting it probably won’t do the trick. Coffee filters are a little better, but what’s really needed is a way to get the oil molecules to clump together so that they can be filtered out. In chemistry, they call that chelation – adding a substance to get other molecules to bind with it and separate out of solution. I do that through a combination of a prepared solution of a special clay called bentonite (which can be purchased from homebrew shops) and raw egg whites. I add the prepared clay solution (about 1/4 cup to a gallon) and the white of one raw egg to my cloudy amaro. Shake it up to mix everything completely and then wait for about one hour. You will see a sludge form from the egg white and bentonite at the bottom of your container. The top will begin to appear nice and clear. I still pour the liquid off the top into a coffee filter and strain it into a new container, but the liquid is pretty clear looking at that point.

        Here’s a tip: if you use coffee filters, try to get about 1 tablespoon of the sludge into the bottom of the coffee filter. This will clog up the pores of the filter slightly, making the filter process a little slow, but with the clearest and cleanest appearing liquid in your filtered container. Also, don’t throw away the sludge. Continue to filter it until you’re left with a thick, mostly dry, film on the coffee filter.

        Fining my amaro is a very time consuming process so if I have a large batch, I usually have four to six coffee filters set up and straining into jars. They sometimes sit overnight. It can be painfully slow, but the results are spectacular.

        Search for “fining” on the site to get a more detailed explanation.

        Good luck!

    • No, generally speaking, refrigeration isn’t necessary. If the concentration of your liqueur is anywhere between 15% to 18% or higher, mold won’t grow. At 18% or higher, bacteria won’t grow. That’s not to say that refrigerating a liqueur is a bad idea – for one thing, a dark refrigerator does reduce the amount of light the liqueur is exposed to. If your liqueur alcohol content were really high, there might be an argument for saying that evaporation is lessened with refrigeration, or that it’s less likely to absorb moisture from the air, but both of these seem a little trivial unless you’re wearing a lab coat. 🙂

  9. Inspired by your recipe and others I’ve landed on the following approach and am delighted by the result. One thing that bothered me about many of the recipes I’ve read was the addition of vermouth, which is itself an infused concoction with wormwood as the essential flavor. To me that seemed to subvert the DIY ethic. So I included typical elements of vermouth into the recipe. I infused the bitter roots and the herbal/floral elements separately to give more control in blending the final product.

    1. BITTER BASE

    • In a large jar, combine:

    1 L 80 proof brandy (nothing pricey)
    3 cups white wine (medium sweet, nothing pricey)
    1 tbsp gentian root
    1 tbsp rhubarb root
    1 tbsp wormwood (Artemisia)
    1-1/2 tsp quassia bark
    15 cherry pits

    • Cap and steep for one week, swirling daily.
    • Strain through mesh sieve, then through gold coffee filter.
    • Add handful of toasted oak chips.
    • Steep oak chips at least one week, preferably longer.

    2. HERBAL INFUSION

    • In separate jar, combine:

    3 cups 80 proof vodka (nothing pricey)
    2 tbsp dried chamomile
    1 tbsp dried orange peel
    1 tbsp dried everlasting
    2 tsp juniper berries
    1 tsp dried rue
    1/3 cinnamon stick
    8 cardamon pods
    5 whole peppercorns
    1/8 tsp anise seeds
    1/8 tsp fennel seeds

    • Cap and steep for one day, swirling occasionally, then add:

    zest of one fresh orange
    zest of one fresh lemon

    • Steep for a second day, swirling occasionally.
    • Strain through mesh sieve, then through gold coffee filter.

    3. CARAMELIZED SIMPLE SYRUP

    • In medium sauce pan, combine:

    3 cups sugar
    1 tbsp water

    • Heat over medium, stirring slowly with long spoon until mixture liquefies and caramelizes to a medium brown color. (Be wary of burning the sugar or yourself.)
    • Reduce heat
    • SLOWLY drizzle and stir in:

    1-1/2 cup water

    • pour carefully into large Pyrex measuring cup and let cool completely

    4. COMBINE TO TASTE:

    2 parts BITTER BASE
    1 part HERBAL INFUSION
    1 part CARAMELIZED SIMPLE SYRUP

    • Bottle and enjoy
    • Yields three and a half 750ml bottles
    • At this ratio, the final mix is 30% alcohol and will keep without refrigeration.

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