The Best Amaros

We picked our six favorites of the Italian digestif

Q: What is amaro?

A: Amaro is black gold. It is distilled from scrubby alpine weeds and scented with the alcoholic breath of un-killable elderly Italian men who wear knit caps in summer. It is teeth-shatteringly sweet and bitter as tears. Dark as crude oil, borderline medicinal, its true ingredients can never be known. It was uncool for so long that now it's incredibly cool.

Who knows what's really in the stuff? This is what we know: We love it. We love the labels, baroque and brutalist, with their arcane signs and symbols. Love to drink it before or after or in place of dinner, straight up or over ice with a little twist of lemon peel.

Love to try every new bottle we can find–and love even more returning to some solid favorites like these.

? Varnelli Amaro Dell'Erborista ($63)

An unfiltered amaro. Cloudy with lots of thyme, anise and mint. Refreshing and perfect for spring and summer sipping.

? Caffo Vecchio Amaro del Capo ($24) 

Full-bodied and boozy (35 percent alcohol), but nicely balanced with lots of herbaceous aromatics and green apple and orange flavors.

? Nonino Amaro ($49)

Tastes like caramel and orange peel. A full-bodied, long finish.

? Averna Amaro ($31)

Lots of mint and cola on the nose. Syrupy sweet, but the high acidity helps to balance it out. Sip on its own, or use in cocktails.

? Cardamaro ($19) 

A complex, wine-based amaro that's low in alcohol (17 percent). Made with thistle, it's woody and earthy with hints of baking spice and dried apple flavors.

? Braulio Amaro Alpino ($32) 

The taste of the Alps! The most bitter and challengingly vegetal of the group–but it's also sweet and balanced in a lovely way.