The world of Italian Amari is wide and varied. They range from light and sweet to profoundly bitter but have a few things in common: they are usually drunk with food and they’re made according to proprietary recipes, steeped with roots, herbs, and more, each one is unique.
Each region of Italy makes its own Amaro, but the most user-friendly of them is the southern Italian Averna. Considered by some to be a bit of a gateway Amaro, Averna is a bit more intensely sweet and flavourful than the others.
And that flavour, that distinct overall taste of bittersweet and spice makes it a great ingredient in cocktails. With Cinnamon, Cola, Bitter Orange and Chocolate notes, its bright bouquet of oranges, lemons and pomegranates captures the sunbaked Sicilian spirit in a bottle.
In Sicily, it’s often consumed after dinner with a slice of orange or lemon peel and fresh mint, rosemary, or other herbs but it, like it’s other digestif cousins in the Amari family, can be used as either a digestif or an aperitif.
The thing that makes Averna so special is its rich, caramel sweetness. It’s that sweetness, as well as the pleasant, mellow weight it brings to cocktails that makes it a favourite. Add the cool intricate herbal flavours and you can see why this is an Amaro that’s so well loved.
Bartenders, in particular, turn to Averna as both a base ingredient and a modifier in drinks like the Whiskey Sour, a variety of highball cocktails and, of course, all those Manhattan variations like the modern-classic Black Manhattan, which swaps Averna for Vermouth.
Considered by some to be a bit of a gateway Amaro, Averna is a bit more intensely sweet and flavourful than the others.
That sweetness also brings a certain depth and can add a frothiness to a shaken cocktail. In a stirred cocktail, it’s the orange and lemon oils that bring that needed brightness as well as a degree of silkiness and body.
If you’re a little sensitive to bitterness, Averna is a nice transitional element that adds texture and most definitely an aromatic edge. Although the exact ingredients are not publically known, it is believed that the herbs, roots and citrus rinds are allowed to soak in the base liquor before caramel is added.
The product is then left inside oak barrique barrels in a cellar for 18 months until all ingredients are thoroughly blended. The company is happy to divulge three ingredients only: lemon, bitter orange, and pomegranate peels.
It was born in the Sicilian village of Caltanisetta in 1868 and was believed to have been created for Salvatore Averna by the herbalist monks of an Spirito Abbey in Caltanissettis. In 1859, as a token of gratitude, the monks gave Salvatore the recipe for the infusion. In 1868 he began producing Averna for guests at his home.
The Amaro is still produced there, using a secret recipe of roughly 60 ingredients that get macerated and infused in a neutral spirit. Only a handful of people know the recipes and the secrecy is so important that sacks of botanicals arrive with only codewords written on them to prevent staff members from piecing the recipe together.
Averna was the first licensed spirits in Sicily and has since grown to become Italy’s best-selling Amaro.
It was Francesco Averna, son of Salvatore, who took the initiative to promote the bitter, participating in various exhibitions in Italy and abroad. In 1912 Vittorio Emanuele III granted the Averna Company the right to affix the royal crest on the label of their liquor with the words “Patent of the Royal House”: the Averna Company became a supplier to the royal household.
All these awards led Francesco to redesign the label, incorporating all its certificates and prizes. After the untimely death of Francesco, his wife Anna Maria took over the company.
Since then multiple generations of the family have not only consolidation their place within the Italian market but also seen growth and development in foreign markets. The Averna company was acquired in 2014 by Gruppo Campari.