DIY Amaro Party Tips

Let the experiment be the entertainment

Minty, fruity, floral, earthy, smoky, spicy: Italy's beloved bitter liqueurs derive their complexity from a meticulous mixture of botanicals. One single amaro, for example, is crafted by infusing alcohol with any combination of fresh herbs, roots and flowers, with no telling what exactly those might be. Such mystery presents a delicious challenge for DIY-minded digestivo geeks.

It also provides a rather original excuse for a craft party.

For the amusement of bringing together your closest friends for a make-your-own amaro party, having a guide helps. Luckily, books on the art of amaro productions aren't hard to find nowadays. But when Elliot Strathmann, co-owner of acclaimed Italian resto Spuntino in Denver, "started going down this rabbit hole" some years back, he says, "there really weren't any."

So he started from scratch—poring over histories of both Italian and Native American medicine, foraging with local herbalists, and experimenting with everything from an approximation of vintage Fernet-Branca to a concoction produced entirely from wild plant species native to Colorado.

Today, his signature recipe contains some 35 ingredients, including licorice seeds and chokecherry root. Add in Strathmann's hospitality expertise, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better resource for tips on hosting a collaborative get-together on the grounds that multiple heads are better than one—and trial and error is half the fun.

Below, Strathmann shares everything you need to know for throwing your own amaro-making party, including planning tips and his go-to recipe for beginners.

Get to know the basics.

From extraction to caramelization and coloring, the techniques involved in amaro production vary as widely as the possible ingredients. Generally speaking, you'll take fresh herbs and wild roots and steep them in any clear spirit of your choosing. The result is a magic elixir that can add depth to any cocktail but is smooth enough to sip on its own.

Don't know where to start? Strathmann explains that his entry-level recipe "provides a decent outline for creating a fairly traditional northern Italian style," albeit one "with a paler color and lighter concentration than that of commercial producers."

Do your shopping and research in advance.

Depending on your whereabouts, the majority of ingredients traditionally found in amaro might not be readily available, so Strathmann recommends online retailer Mountain Rose Herbs for its reliable inventory. Note that, for tinkering's sake, you might want to purchase more than the total amounts required—say, at least two ounces of each ingredient per five or six guests—but even then, he promises, "It shouldn't be a huge expense for the quantities involved." You'll also need proper glass containers, a digital gram scale, a mortar and pestle or spice grinder that the group can take turns using, and plenty of cheesecloth or untreated muslin.

As for refreshments, you'd do well to build on the Italian theme with aperitivo-hour staples: Prosecco and Aperol Spritzes, taralli or pretzels and olives, some salumi and crostini—the simpler, the better to prevent sensory overload and keep the focus on the aromatic project at hand. Of course, you could also pour a favored amaro or two for inspiration.   

Organize your workspace. 

In addition to printing out copies of the recipe for discussion and note-taking, Strathmann suggests displaying the ingredients in small jars, neatly labeled with brief descriptions (see recipe for examples), so that guests can "stick their nose in and get a sense of them" before deciding on "a little of this or a little of that."

That's especially valuable when it comes to the optional ingredients. Although it will be hard to go too wrong if you follow the instructions provided, Strathmann points out, "You might end up with something kind of odd if you started going heavy on, say, peppermint and citrus peel." (Think toothpaste and orange juice.) Build in tiny increments with an eye toward nuance.

Prepare the party favors. 

As your amari will take a few weeks to complete, you could send each of your friends home with a gift bag containing not only their batch and recipe card but also a fresh receptacle for filtering, a sufficient amount of cheesecloth or muslin, and, perhaps, small packets of extra herbs and spices.

Then host a follow-up tasting. 

Better yet, invite everyone back for a finishing party, where you'll sweeten, sample, strain and finally share sips of your creations. Pair them with an assortment of sweets, such as biscotti and truffles—"I believe strongly that amaro and chocolate are a fantastic pairing," Strathmann says. Espresso service would complement the spread as well. 

Ruth Tobias has been living, and writing about, the (mile) high life in Denver for 10 years and counting. Follow her on Instagram at @denveater.