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!

Martellotto Winery Newly Released: NV Martellotto Semi-Secco Bianco Vermouth

Martellotto Winery Newly Released: NV Martellotto Semi-Secco Bianco Vermouth

Martellotto Winery, in Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara County, releases a new NV Martellotto Semi-Secco Bianco Vermouth. Not every winery offers something so unique. This ideal aperitif wine awakens your senses just as the Brazilian-commissioned label dazzles your eye with the beautiful floral design. 

“This is my second release of this wine,” says Greg Martellotto. “My first foray into the growing Vermouth category was in 2018. The base wine of both is a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Happy Canyon and Chardonnay from a single vineyard in Santa Maria. Then I add a proprietary blend of botanicals in high-proof grape distilled spirit. It’s really refreshing and delicious.”

Vermouth is defined as a red or white fortified wine infused with aromatic botanicals. Popular in France, Spain and Italy, it is also used in cocktails. Not well-known in the U.S. as an aperitif or digestif, mixologists use it primarily as a cocktail mixer, especially in Martinis.

NV Martellotto Semi-Secco Bianco Vermouth second release

Martellotto’s vermouth has no added sugar, includes over 20 botanical ingredients and features mandarin peel as an additional flavor and aroma component. The alcohol is 19%. Refrigerate up to 3 months after opening.

The wine is Semi-Secco which means half-dry. Since Vermouth ranges from dry to sweet, this one sits in the middle of the range. 

Aromas express toasted bitter almond, sherry-like flor, vanilla, a touch of sweetness, and candied mandarin orange peel. The flavor on the palate is refreshing with a hint of vanilla, some nuttiness, a subtle bitterness, with a viscous mouthfeel.

Serving suggestions include:

    • Over ice
    • Over ice with tonic or soda water and a twist (lemon or lime)
    • Mixed in cocktails in place of any other vermouth
    • Paired with nuts, olives, dried cheeses or fresh seafood
    • Savored at sunset (it’s the perfect little sunset drink)

NV Martellotto Semi-Secco Bianco Vermouth pairs with most anything. If you taste it, you will want to drink it. 

“Americans are just beginning to appreciate the joys of vermouth,” Greg adds. “Enjoy (it) with John Coltrane performing "My Favorite Things." At sunset!

Martellotto Winery Santa Barbara County Happy Canyon AVA

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

100 Los Padres Way #7

Buellton, CA  93427

(619) 567-9244