Amaro at Alma

Alma serves a number of different amaros // Photo by Tj Turner

Alma serves a number of different amaros // Photo by Tj Turner

Filled with mystery and allure, amaro is a liqueur worthy of our attention. In fact, it demands it. 

Dualities of bitter and sweet, backed up by bold herbaceous, spicy flavors require us to slow down. Most purveyors guard their proprietary blends of macerated botanicals, leaving us to tune into our palette in order to uncover the complex flavors and develop a personal understanding of the drink. An amaro encourages us to linger after a good meal and digest our food while continuing the conversation. 

Across the river from downtown Minneapolis at Restaurant Alma, you can embrace the romantic ideals of slow dining with their impressive collection of amaro. Take a seat at the cafe bar [Editor’s Note: As of July 16, Alma Cafe was open for outdoor seating only] and survey the designated shelf showcasing amaro. Or, settle in for the tasting menu on the restaurant side where you will be presented with a list of their full amaro selection at the end of the meal. 

We sat down with Alma bar manager Nikola Govich to get his thoughts on amaro. We learned that there’s no wrong way to enjoy it. If you’ve tried one amaro, you haven’t tried them all. Each amaro is different and offers endless, creative possibilities and Alma curates anywhere from 15 to 25 different bottles at a time. 

Amaro originated in Italy and is traditionally sipped neat (poured straight from the bottle) after a meal. However, light, citrusy amari (plural for amaro) are also lovely on ice. In the advent of mixology, the bitter-leaning amari shine in a whiskey cocktail. 

Amaro marries flavors together and can draw out a particular quality in another spirit. As Govich put it, “you want your bourbon to taste like bourbon, your gin to taste like gin and your vodka to taste like nothing, but amaro can be anything.” 

We experienced this in action with the Fire Walk With Me from Alma’s cocktail list. Made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, chipotle-infused vermouth, Tattersall Creme de Cacao, Amaro Averna, and Bittercube Corazon Bitters, it offers up the perfect level of spice. The Amaro Averna compliments the smoky chipotle and rounds out the bourbon. It is both warming and refreshing with subtle, cooling notes. This cocktail might be retired soon since they plan to change up their offerings for the upcoming season, but it is a perfect example of Alma’s expertise in balancing flavors and delivering something that is both pleasant and inspired. 

Alma bar manager Nikola Govich walks us through different amaros // Photo by Tj Turner

Alma bar manager Nikola Govich walks us through different amaros // Photo by Tj Turner

We asked Govich to recommend a flight for the curious beginner. He started us off with Amaro Meletti. What you see is what you get with this smooth amaro. The stunning caramel, saffron color precisely echoes its flavor notes. It is sweet but not cloying. 

Next was Cynar. It gets its name from Cynara scolymus, the botanical name for artichoke which is the predominant pop of flavor backed up by twelve other “classified” herbs and spices. Third in our curated flight was Amaro Averna—remember this one from the aforementioned cocktail? It was originally formulated by Benedictine monks in Sicily who used it medicinally. In 1859 the secret recipe was shared with an abbey patron who grew the liqueur into a successful business. 

Averna is the first place Govich goes when he thinks of amaro because it hits a whole gamut of flavor. He finished off our flight with the Fernet-Vallet. Produced in Mexico, it has a deep color akin to balsamic vinegar. Govich was particularly excited about this one. He first tried it eight years ago and was thrilled to finally obtain it. We found the classic minty notes that are present in all fernet along with an assertive hit of woodsy spices and a clean finish. It is far less sweet than other amaro and, like a splash of cool water on your face, the flavor will definitely wake you up.  

It’s safe to say the amaro collection at Alma is in good hands with Govich. He is exactly what you want in a bartender: knowledgeable and passionate while also being down to earth, a great listener, and conversationalist. He left us with a few additional tips for amaro fans:

Try subbing out the Campari for a different amaro in a classic Negroni, or add in some amaro for a riff on a Manhattan. 

The best way to decide given the sheer breadth of amaro? Ask your bartender! It’s a great way to learn and most bartenders love to talk about amaro. 

He recommended that travelers seek out amaro because there are hundreds out in the world, many of which are not obtainable in the United States. However, domestic producers are starting to try their hand at the Italian classic. 

To finish, Govich recommended ordering an affogato with Amaro Montenegro for dessert. We didn’t get to that this time, but you better believe we will be back for it.   

After a few savory bites from the cafe at Alma, we headed straight to our local liquor store. Now we have our own bottle of Amaro Averna to sip on at home and tide us over until our encore adventure in amaro at Alma.