Why are bartenders so very fond of amari? For one, Italian herbal liqueurs provide balance. Cocktails are all about integrating flavors, reaching the precise point where sweet aspects are balanced with the bitter, or tart, or herbal. The best amari contain many of these elements in a single bottle. And it’s that complexity that endears them to mixologists, too—elusive notes of botanicals, fruits, and spices, all swirling in a single glass.
Of all the many, many amari you’ll find on the shelves these days, Amaro Montenegro might be our favorite to work with. Made with 40 botanicals—their precise formula is strictly guarded—Montenegro is bold with orange and caramel, judiciously balanced with the bitter. Bright and extremely likeable, it’s delicious sipped neat or on the rocks after dinner, as it often is in Italy.
With its multifaceted character and pleasant sweetness, Montenegro is a real asset in cocktails, too. It can take on the role of an herbal amaro, an orange liqueur, or a base ingredient in its own right. It’s a chameleon in the best of ways. Here are three cocktails that show off its versatility.
Easy: Monte-Cognac Sour
Some drinks aren’t variations on a classic; they just take inspiration from one. The Sidecar is one of those cocktails that deserves more of a spotlight than it gets—a rich Cognac drink made bright with lemon and orange liqueur. Given Montenegro’s prominent orange notes, we riffed on the Sidecar template, swapping it in for Cointreau. The result might be even more compelling than the original, with the amaro’s range of herbal and floral notes giving this cocktail tremendous nuance.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine an ounce and a half of Cognac, ¾ ounce Amaro Montenegro, and ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice. Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a long lemon twist, twisting it over the surface of the drink to spritz its citrus oils over the glass.
Any cocktail ingredient that’s bitter—even just a little bitter—we love to pair with grapefruit. And it just so happens that Montenegro’s vegetal aspects pair beautifully with a good reposado tequila. So we slid it into a Paloma-style cocktail with fresh grapefruit, tequila, and soda. Refreshing and balanced, these go down awfully quick.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine an ounce of reposado tequila, an ounce of Amaro Montenegro, an ounce of fresh grapefruit juice, and a quarter-ounce of simple syrup. Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Top with an ounce of club soda and stir briefly. Garnish with a few half-moon grapefruit slices.
Advanced: Monte Silver Fizz
Why does Montenegro work so well in a Silver Fizz, with citrus, egg white, and soda? It’s like more bitter and balanced Creamsicle. Light and low-alcohol like a Spritz, but richer. The amaro is stiff enough to be the starring ingredient, but mellow enough to leave this cocktail light and easy. Suffice it to say, it works, and it’s one of the classiest brunch drinks that we’ve ever devised.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker without ice, combine an ounce and a half of Amaro Montenegro, an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and 1/2 ounce simple syrup. Add one egg white. Shake all that up without ice to aerate it—that’s called a “dry shake”—and then add ice and shake again for a “wet shake,” to chill it down. Strain into a tall glass without ice. Top with two ounces of club soda and serve with a straw.