How to Make Amaro in 2020 with This Savory Homemade Amaro Recipe

How to Make Amaro in 2020 with This Savory Homemade Amaro Recipe

You can easily make homemade amaro and spice up your cocktails, sparkling wine or water, or add to coffee, tea, or lemonade - whatever your imagination creates!

Amaro vs. Bitters: What’s the Difference?

The Italian word amaro means bitter, so, technically, amaro is a form of bitters from Italy. Bitters is the tincture added in drops to cocktails. Amaro, a bittersweet liqueur, is meant to drink straight or added to cocktails.

Plants, herbs, and other botanical ingredients infuse both amaro, also called potable bitters, and bitters. Vermouth is a type of amaro because it contains wormwood, a bitter compound. 

The alcohol content in amaro ranges from 16% to 40% vs 44% for bitters and bitters are much more concentrated. 

Bitters is used as an ingredient in cocktails, other beverages, and food. Also called tincture bitters, popular brands include Angostura and Peychaud’s. Amaro is drunk as an after-dinner drink, a digestif.

Both products have deep and complex flavors from earthy and natural ingredients like herbs, roots, bark, spices, seeds, fruits, or flowers.

Amaro’s sweetness comes from added simple syrup, which is not found in bitters. Simple syrup makes amaro potable, or drinkable. Bitters alone is an ingredient, not a beverage.

With thousands of amaro-type liqueurs made around the world, many still use secret recipes. Popular amaro brands show a wide variety of ingredients: 

  • Fernet-Branca - intensely herbal
  • Cynar - vegetal
  • Aperol - orange
  • Campari - grapefruit
  • Jagermeister - herbal, medicinal

12 health benefits of bitter compounds

12 Health Benefits of Bitter Compounds

Historically, both the diet and medicine incorporated bitters. Herbal blends stimulated appetite and digestion and supported a healthy gastrointestinal system.

Plants developed bitter compounds as protection against bacteria and fungus. These compounds provided similar benefits to humans. The human body has many receptors for bitter compounds, including the taste buds in our mouths, which trigger these protective processes.

Bitter compounds benefit the human body in many ways, including:

  • Stimulate saliva, acids, and enzymes for digestion
  • Increase the absorption of vitamins and nutrients
  • Prevent fungal and microbial growth
  • Lower inflammation and oxidation 
  • Relieve gas, bloating, heartburn and reduce acid reflux
  • Improve blood circulation, remove impurities, support healthy blood sugar levels
  • Inhibit food cravings and promote a healthy appetite
  • Relieve upset stomach and nausea
  • Promote a healthy liver and gallbladder function
  • Support healthy skin 
  • Reduce the risk of ulcers
  • Manage cholesterol levels 

Some people believe bitters may be more beneficial than probiotics, but further research is needed.

Amaro was developed as a tasty way to prepare the body to digest food ahead of a meal. Today, people drink amaro both before and after meals to help with digestion.

history of amaro

The History of Amaro

Throughout history, as far back as ancient Egypt, bitters was added to wine to aid digestion. With anti-inflammatory properties, bitters also restored the body after over-imbibing. Asian cultures, particularly Ayurvedic and Chinese, used bitters in their diets.

These cultures found making bitters from wild and non-toxic plants had positive effects on the human body, including ridding the body of some toxins. 

At almost every turn in history, bitters was added to food and drink, but the Italians made amaro a specialty. Bitters and amaro were made from ancient recipes in Italian monasteries and pharmacies to use as medicine.

People developed recipes based on the plants and herbs that grew nearby, so each one was unique to its location. Many recipes were passed down through generations of families. Drinking amaro from Italy is like drinking Italy’s history. 

The British brought their use of medicinal herbal tonics to the New World. In the U.S., bitters and cocktails have been intertwined with dashes of bitters thrown into the newly created cocktail in the early 1800s. When Prohibition made its debut, people still took bitters but added sugar to make it taste better.

One of the most popular stories of bitters comes from Angostura bitters. Angostura used to be made from the bark of the angostura tree in the Venezuelan town of the same name. 

Developed by a German doctor, Angostura helped battle malaria. Eventually, the doctor created a business by selling it to sailors. The product is now made in Trinidad and Tobago. Quinine, with its antimalarial properties, is another common ingredient in bitters.

Peychaud’s Bitters, developed by an apothecary in New Orleans and now produced in Kentucky, is an integral part of the city’s famous Sazerac cocktail.

how to enjoy amaro

How to Enjoy Amaro

Traditionally, people drank amaro before a meal to prepare the body for digestion. Over time, some drank it after a heavy meal to support digestion. 

Now you can drink a small glass as an aperitif before dinner or add bitter greens such as arugula, kale, broccoli rabe, or watercress to your salad at the beginning of supper. 

After dinner, especially a large or heavy one, improve digestion by sipping a small glass or try green or chamomile tea.

Amaro is served in a small glass without ice, called neat, but you can pour it over ice or add it to tonic water or club soda. 

With wide-ranging varieties, flavors, and styles, amaro is a favorite ingredient in craft cocktails. Some people add it to coffee or even beer!

Many bartenders today offer less sweet and more savory cocktails, which are more interesting for the customer. An essential part of this trend, bitters and amaro provide flexibility, limited only by the imagination.

Some different styles include:

  • Light: lighter in color with more citrus notes
  • Medium: around 30% alcohol, balanced between bitter, sweet, and citrus 
  • Fernet: more sharply bitter
  • Alpine: made with alpine herbs, 17-30% alcohol 
  • Carciofo: made with artichoke, 17% alcohol 
  • Tartufo: made with black truffles, 30% alcohol
  • China: made with Cinchona calisaya bark
  • Rabarbaro: made with bitter rhubarb
  • Miscellaneous: made with honey, fennel, or unripe green walnuts (nocino)

In the U.S., you can buy some bitters from non-liquor retailers. Not considered alcoholic because it is not a beverage, it is sold differently from amaro.

Homemade Amaro Recipe Tips

You need a few basic things to make amaro: 

  • a high-proof neutral grain alcohol 
  • a bittering agent

The bittering agent is the backbone, so be sure you get the right agent: gentian root is popular. Others include wormwood, angelica root, cherry tree bark, or a cinchona bark.

You can add other herbals, spices, fruits, roots, and barks to create a unique blend.

Consider using a recipe if you haven’t made it before.

How much of each ingredient is up to you. Start with a 1:5 ratio, bittering agent to alcohol. 

Then make small batches from different ingredients to figure out what you like. You can blend them to see the overall effect.

Understand the process is not quick if you want good results.

Use local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Know what you are using because some elements might be toxic. 

Use a mortar and pestle to break apart the plant fibers. 

Strain the infusion several times through cheesecloth to get all the plant material out.

Note: You can make non-alcoholic amaro using a non-alcoholic spirit or water, but the resulting product will have a short shelf-life.

You can call your result a “natural” liqueur to impress “natural” wine hipsters.

martellotto winery amaro

How to Make Amaro with the Martellotto Amaro di California Recipe

Greg Martellotto, owner of Martellotto Winery in Happy Canyon AVA near Santa Barbara, has an Italian background. He first experienced Amaro as a student abroad in Italy. After his first taste of cannoli and Cio Ciara amaro while in Palermo, he was hooked.


1 oz. cinchona bark

1/2 oz. bitter orange peel

1/2 oz. ground ginger

1/2 oz black peppercorn

1 oz. cinnamon stick

1/4 oz. cardamon

1 stick vanilla

1 Liter high-proof (190 proof) alcohol. You can use vodka or grappa, but the extraction will not be the same.

You can order the botanicals, dried herbs, and bitter compounds from a handful of specialty retailers. Or, if you have a food dehydrator, you can make your own. This works particularly well for drying fruits, fruit rinds, herbs, and flowers.


  1. Assemble dried herbs, botanicals and bitter agents. You can wrap in a cheese cloth to make a bouquet garni, or you can immerse the ingredients in a large glass jar. The jars used for sangria or Mexican aguas are good. Use a tight fitting seal to limit evaporation.
  2. Keep out of direct light and let infuse for 2 weeks.
  3. Filter the liquid from the botanical ingredients. 
  4. Make a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar over low heat. Use 2 liters of water plus 2 liters (about 8 cups) of sugar. (Since, we started with high-proof alcohol and we want to end up with about 30% ABV, we add 2/3 parts simple syrup to 1/3 part infused spirit.)
  5. Combine the simple syrup with the infused high proof alcohol in a large glass container. Let sit for 8 weeks in a cool area, outside of direct light. Stir once a week.
  6. Bottle in 375ml bottles with a cork stopper.

Give away the bottled amaro, it makes a great gift. Don’t be surprised if you receive requests to make more. 

Play with the recipe. Be creative!

 ~Alla Salute! 

martellotto winery amaro producer

Martellotto Winery Salutes Homemade Amaro Makers

 We hope you enjoy making homemade amaro. Enjoy it with good food and company and share it with friends and family. 

Note: you cannot sell or otherwise commercialize homemade amaro without proper legal approvals.

Here’s to herbal amaro any time of year!

How to Make Limoncello in 2020 with This Sunny Homemade Limoncello Recipe

How to Make Limoncello in 2020 with This Sunny Homemade Limoncello Recipe

You can easily make homemade limoncello! Once done, you can pour yourself a small dose of liquid sunshine any time to carry you through the long dark days of winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, shimmery limoncello will cool you down on a hot summer day.

Why Make Homemade Limoncello?

Limoncello. The sound of this word conjures lazy days sitting in the sun on the Italian coastline. This Italian word means little lemon: “limon” plus the diminutive “cello.” 

The word lemon likely originates from the Persian word for citrus, “limun.” Not protected like Champagne, the term "limoncello" was trademarked in 1988. 

Limoncello is the deeply lemon-flavored liqueur found primarily in the Campania region of Italy. This area encompasses the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, and the isle of Capri. Most lemons in Italy grow here. The liqueur is called Limoncino in the north of the country.

why make homemade limoncello

Lemons, originating in the Middle East, have been grown in the Amalfi area since the mid-17th century. Citrus fruits, including lemons, have high vitamin C content, so ancient travelers carried them to avoid scurvy, a disease brought on by lack of vitamin C.

Vitamin C is necessary for the human diet. The human body does not manufacture vitamin C so it has to receive it from external sources. 

Lemons also contain antioxidants and phytochemicals.  In addition to preventing scurvy, they provide additional health benefits such as:

  • boosting the immune system
  • lowering the risk of stroke
  • supporting collagen formation, which strengthens blood vessels, muscles, and skin
  • lowering blood pressure
  • suppressing the common cold
  • assisting in cancer and asthma prevention and weight loss
  • increasing iron absorption

Lemons are excellent for your health. 

special lemons of campania

The Special Lemons of Campania

The lemon used to make the original limoncello of the Amalfi coast is called the Sfusato d'Amalfi, the Amalfi Lemon. 

This variety began as a cross between the local bitter oranges and the lemon brought from the Middle East. Crossbreeding continued up to the current lemon. 

Longer and more pointed in shape, the Amalfi lemon is larger than most commercial lemons. The Sorrento lemon, from the nearby town of Sorrento, has a rounder shape. 

Both lemons are very fragrant and have high levels of essential oils and vitamin C. They also have the bright lemon hue that permeates the liqueur from the natural oil. 

The best limoncello comes from lemons with high levels of essentials oils because the zest is the critical ingredient. The zest provides flavor and color. The white pith of the rind adds bitterness, so it is not used, nor is the internal fruit, in making the liqueur.

Italian law protects these lemons through the Consortium for the Promotion of the Amalfi Coast Lemon or the Consorzio di Tutela del Limone Costa d'Amalfi IGP. 

IGP rules prohibit artificial colors or flavors, chemicals, emulsifiers, or preservatives. IGP status ensures authenticity, provenance, and traditional production guidelines. 

Lemon production historically involved entire towns with men and women taking different roles. Today, men and women are equally involved, and lemon production promotes tourism. You find lemons, lemon-themed items, and limoncello everywhere.

On steep hillsides, stone walls surround areas of lemon tree cultivation. These steep hillsides and proximity to the sea provide unique microclimates for nurturing the fruit.

Pergolas made from straw matting cover the trees, protecting them from the cold. Trees flower in May and the harvest takes place by hand between February and October. 

Amalfi lemon trees take three years to bear fruit and will continue to bear fruit for upwards of 100 years.

lemons and limoncello history

Lemons and Limoncello History

While lemons are ancient and hybrid fruiting trees, they likely originated in the Assam region of Southern China, between Myanmar and Bhutan. China remains one of the world’s largest exporters of lemons, but you can’t find Chinese limoncello - yet.

India, Iran, and Turkey all produce lemons. As traders brought the plants around the world from the Middle East, the trees thrived in dry, warm, Mediterranean-type climates.

Italy, including Sicily, and Spain export the most lemons from Europe. The trees have grown in these two countries for over a thousand years. 

Brazil, Mexico, the U.S., and Argentina produce large amounts of lemons. Trees came to the Americas with Columbus. Florida and California produce the most lemons in the U.S.

Not all these countries make limoncello. 

Though the Amalfi lemon is ancient, limoncello’s history only goes back to around the turn of the 20th century. Many an Italian grandma and grandpa made homemade lemon liquor. Some served their homemade concoctions in neighborhood bars.

Each region or island has a limoncello history with Amalfi’s rumored to be the oldest. An entrepreneur from the isle of Capri, Massimo Canale, used his nonna’s (grandma’s) recipe to make the limoncello that he trademarked in 1988.

Limoncello is popular both in Italy and around the world. You can find limoncello, both commercial and homemade versions, in France, Malta, the U.S., and Argentina.

In Argentina, many Italian and even meat restaurants will serve their local version of a chilled limoncello after your meal.

In California, 80% of lemons grown in the US come from Ventura County. A local limoncello is produced there.

how to enjoy shimmery limoncello

How to Enjoy Shimmery Limoncello

Though high in alcohol, limoncello delivers aromatics, sweetness, lemon flavor, and balance. The taste is sweet and tart, strong and soothing.

Traditionally drunk as a digestif, it was served cold in small, slim glasses and sipped after a meal. Today, you can drink it before dinner as an aperitif, after dinner as a digestif, or anytime. Creative bar chefs are making innovative cocktails with the spirit. 

Commercial producers exist, but only the hand-crafted versions deliver the right balance of flavor, alcohol, and sweetness.  Commercial products may include artificial colors and flavors to imitate the original lemons, chemicals for shelf life, and emulsifiers to mimic the opaque liquid.

The combination of the essential oils blended with water act to create the opaque look of the final product, as happens with absinthe.

Serve limoncello at room temperature in cooler months and freezer cold during the hot summer months. Lemoncello makes a great spritz when added to sparkling water. Limoncello makes a delicious ingredient for salad dressings, ice creams, sorbets, gelatos, cookies, pound cakes, tarts, and more. 

homemade limoncello recipe tips

Homemade Limoncello Recipe Tips

Recipes vary, but the essential ingredients remain organic lemons, neutral spirits, sugar, and water. These ingredients plus time create the perfect drink. Call it “natural” liqueur to impress “natural” wine hipsters.

By making homemade limoncello, you control the quality and determine the taste based on the amount of each ingredient. 

Many people use the standard Eureka lemons found most often in supermarkets. Try to find a lemon high in essential oils to create a more colorful, deeper flavored limoncello. Look for fruits with thicker peels and deep color. Commercial lemons will yield a less intense final product. 

Some recipes require only four days while others require months. Which method you choose depends on your timing and patience. 

Use Everclear as the base liquor if you can find it, or any other grain alcohol. Vodka is popular due to its availability, but the result will not be the same. Due to it’s lower level of alcohol, vodka and lower proof alcohol will not extract the same amount of lemon oil and flavor.

Because of the higher alcohol content, you can keep limoncello in the freezer. Be sure to leave space in the bottle for expansion of the liquid inside the bottle.

Limoncello is made best from its roots, from a simple, honest recipe. 

martellotto winery limoncello

How to Make Limoncello with the Martellotto Limoncello di California Recipe

Greg Martellotto, owner of Martellotto Winery in Buellton, CA, has an Italian background. 

His grandparents immigrated from Puglia, in Southern Italy in the heel of the boot. He met many cousins and family members there for the first time during a study abroad program in college.

“I learned that my family is very resourceful and that they don’t let anything go to waste. I was amazed at how many delicious homemade products they produced. In the US, we have a saying, ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ Well, they do the same thing, but they have an adult version, and it’s called limoncello,” said Greg. 

This family recipe yields wonderfully delicious alcohol typically drunk to aid in digestion after dinner. 


  • 10 large lemons (preferably organic)
  • 1-liter grape distilled spirit 90% alcohol or 180 proof or higher *
  • 1.25 pounds of sugar
  • 1-liter of filtered water + 100ml (optional) 

* It can be difficult in the U.S. to obtain high proof grape distilled spirits. The closest thing you’ll typically find in stores is Everclear.


  1. Wash and dry lemons.
  2. Peel off the yellow skins of the lemons with a peeler – do not include any white pith.
  3. Pour the alcohol into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  4. Drop in the lemon rind. Seal the jar and leave for one week in a dark, cool place.

Note: If you’re using high-proof alcohol, most of the lemon oil and flavor are extracted within seven days.

After seven days, boil 1-liter of water, adding the sugar. Stir until dissolved.

Allow the sugar water/syrup to cool to the touch.

Add the syrup to the alcohol/lemon rind mixture.

Stir to integrate.

Strain out the lemon peels.

Taste the limoncello. 

You can make a slight adjustment if needed by adding up to 10% more syrup. It will make the limoncello sweeter and lower in alcohol. 

With this recipe, the resulting limoncello will be approximately 45% ABV (alcohol by volume.) Adding 10% more sugar and water results in limoncello with about 37% ABV. 

Some people make limoncello as low as 30%, but it doesn’t taste like home. When limoncello is served at freezer temperatures, the taste will be less harsh, less hot, and less alcoholic. The final taste is up to you.

Once you have the final product, you are ready to bottle. You can use 375ml bottles with a cork stopper.

Keep the bottled limoncello in the freezer and give it away. People love it! Don’t be surprised if you receive free lemons with a request to make more.

You can play with this recipe using other citrus fruits, such as mandarins, tangerines, and oranges. Meyer lemons don’t have enough rind, and grapefruit tends to be too bitter. 

~Alla Salute! 

martellotto winery

Martellotto Winery Salutes Homemade Limoncello Makers

We hope you enjoy making homemade limoncello. Enjoy it with good food and company and share it with friends and family. 

Note that you cannot sell or otherwise commercialize homemade limoncello without proper legal approvals.

Here’s to sunny limoncello any time of year!

Santa Barbara Wine Country Ends Successful 2019 Grape Harvest

Santa Barbara Wine Country Ends Successful 2019 Grape Harvest

In Santa Barbara wine country, it’s all over but no crying this year. The 2019 Santa Barbara AVA grape harvest came to an end with little drama and a classic vintage. 

According to Greg Martellotto, owner of Martellotto Winery, “The 2019 harvest is high-quality with few remarkable challenges. Similar to 2016, the wines will be balanced, classic, and varietally correct.” 

Santa Barbara County, as a whole, experienced a mild spring after a colder winter season. Few summer heat spikes led to more consistent and predictable ripening, longer hang-time, and deeper color.

While there were a few heat spikes, the overall outlook is positive because of the moderate conditions.

santa barbara wine country

Martellotto Winery, located in Buellton, produces wines from grapes grown in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA. With an optimal harvest, Bordeaux varietal grapes revealed almost perfect balance and color.  

“After all the hard work and long days, we are celebrating because the rest is easy. We just have to be hands-off in the winery and let the fruit shine,” continued Greg. “Because we harvested at peak ripeness levels, we don’t need to be too hands on with the wine this year. It’s like a chef who lets the ingredients shine through without over seasoning or saucing.”

With an increasing demand among wine consumers and the trade, the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA shows growing pains. As a result of this attention, grape prices are increasing because of severely restricted supply vis-à-vis increasing demand. With only a handful of vineyards, more wineries are on the way. 

santa barbara county grape harvest 2019

Happy Canyon produces under-rated Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc that outshine better-known wine regions. This is a revelation to many who know Santa Barbara for high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The Cabernet Sauvignon blends reveal fresh berry flavors, round and lush sweetness, and a velvety quality that must be tasted. The warm days and cool nights provide for a natural acidity balanced with smooth tannins.

The wines made from Sauvignon Blanc are complex with a creamy richness, both tropical and floral.

The 2019 vintage offers an excellent opportunity to try these wines at their best.

Given all the climate drama in California in recent years, winemakers in Santa Barbara wine country can breathe freely, having another great vintage resting quietly.

santa barbara happy canyon martellotto winery grape harvest 2019

About Martellotto Winery

Set deep in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, Martellotto Winery makes handcrafted, beautiful and exciting wines using selected grapes from across California’s Central Coast. American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) include Happy Canyon AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, and Santa Maria Valley AVA. Owner and winemaker, Greg Martellotto, specializes in Bordeaux varietals. Martellotto Winery is one of the few wineries producing single varietal wines of all five of the noble Bordeaux grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.


Greg Martellotto, Owner            

Martellotto Winery

(619) 567-9244