I first came across Amaro after a particularly fine and delicious Italian meal. My host called for a bottle, informing me that it was perfect for aiding digestion. Amaro is Italian for bitter and that was my abiding memory of it, but it seemed to do the trick. Most commercially available Amaros trace their roots to recipes concocted in the 19th century in monasteries or pharmacies.
If you are looking for an Amaro that is out of the ordinary, then Monte Stambecco Amaro might just be the one. Taking its name from the Ibex or long horned mountain goats that gambol on the Alps near the Vergnano family distillery, Torino Distillati, in Piedmont, it is produced by the Master Distiller, Beppe Ronco. Its particular twist is to use a distillate of Marasca cherries from Pecetto, making it the first in the world to do so.
The starting point is a pure base spirit which is made from Italian wheat and has been distilled five times. The cherries are then soaked in alcohol, squeezed in a basket press and then distilled in a copper pot. Thirty botanicals are then distilled in a vacuum still, including sweet and bitter oranges, coriander seeds, marjoram, oregano, wormwood, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, gentian root, lemon peel, cinchona, rhubarb, yarrow, and saffron.
Sugar is then added for flavour and caramel for colour, before the spirit is chill filtrated to a temperature of minus five centigrade. The final stage before bottling is to blend it with pure mountain spring water, producing a liqueur with an ABV of 35%.
The design of the bottle also reflects this attention to detail. Dumpy, with a cherry red stopper, and glass heavily embossed with bumps, its labelling is bold in a classic Italian style, white lettering on a blue background and an image of the ibex at the centre. It certainly stands out from the crowd on a shelf.
The spirit has a gorgeous chestnut brown colour with a hint of red. The aroma is unmistakably that of cherry with a hint of the spiciness of cinnamon and cardamom, and to the taste it is mildly sweet, although not excessively so, the bitterness of some of the other botanicals in the mix giving it balance to produce a wonderfully complex liqueur.
I drank it neat with a couple of ice cubes and it made for a distinctive and enjoyable drink. Alternatively, it can be drunk as an ice cold shot or in a cocktail, perhaps a twist on a Manhattan, a Stamhattan, you might say.
It is imported into the UK by the enterprising Biggar & Leith and while their claim that every home bar should have a bottle of Stambecco may be a bit presumptuous, it is certainly one to bring out for that special occasion. It is also the nearest I shall get to Italy for quite a while.
Until the next time, cheers!