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  • Writer's pictureSu Guillory

The History and Tradition of Amaro in Calabria

Amaro, a beloved Italian herbal liqueur, has a storied history and deep-rooted tradition, particularly in the southern region of Calabria. Known for its robust and complex flavors, amaro has been a staple in Italian households for centuries, serving as both a digestif and a symbol of cultural heritage. Let's dive into the rich history of amaro in Calabria, its traditional production methods, and its significance in contemporary Calabrian culture.

A Brief History of Amaro

The origins of amaro can be traced back to ancient times when herbal infusions were commonly used for medicinal purposes. The word "amaro" itself means "bitter" in Italian, reflecting the primary flavor profile of these liqueurs. In Calabria, the tradition of crafting amaro has been passed down through generations, with recipes often kept as closely guarded family secrets.

Ancient Beginnings

Calabria, with its diverse flora and unique climate, has long been an ideal region for producing herbal liqueurs. The use of local herbs, roots, and spices in medicinal remedies dates back to the Greeks and Romans, who inhabited the area and utilized the natural bounty for their health benefits. These early concoctions laid the groundwork for what would eventually become amaro.

The Evolution of Amaro

During the Middle Ages, the production of herbal liqueurs became more refined, thanks to the contributions of monastic communities. Monks, known for their knowledge of herbs and alchemy, perfected the art of distillation and created more complex and potent elixirs. In Calabria, monasteries played a crucial role in developing and preserving amaro recipes, many of which are still used today.

Traditional Production Methods

The production of amaro in Calabria is an artisanal process that involves careful selection and blending of various botanicals. Each producer has its own unique recipe, often a closely guarded secret passed down through generations. Despite the variations, the fundamental process remains consistent.

Selecting the Botanicals

The first step in making amaro is the selection of botanicals. These typically include a combination of local herbs, roots, flowers, and spices. Some of the most commonly used ingredients in Calabrian amaro are:

  • Gentian root

  • Orange peel

  • Licorice

  • Juniper berries

  • Cardamom

  • Cinnamon

  • Clove

Maceration and Infusion

Once the botanicals are selected, they undergo a maceration process, where they are soaked in a high-proof alcohol base to extract their flavors and medicinal properties. This mixture is then left to infuse for a period that can range from several weeks to several months, allowing the flavors to meld together harmoniously.

Aging and Blending

After the infusion period, the liquid is typically aged in wooden barrels, which adds depth and complexity to the flavor profile. The aging process can vary greatly, with some amari being aged for years. Once the aging is complete, the amaro is blended and diluted to the desired strength before being bottled.

The Cultural Significance of Amaro in Calabria

Amaro is more than just a beverage in Calabria; it is a cultural symbol that represents the region's rich history and traditions. It is commonly enjoyed as a digestif after meals, believed to aid digestion and provide a comforting end to a hearty meal. Amaro also plays a significant role in social and family gatherings, often being shared among friends and relatives as a gesture of hospitality.

Celebrations and Rituals

In Calabria, amaro is a staple at many celebrations and religious festivals. It is often served during important events such as weddings, baptisms, and holidays, where it is used to toast to health, happiness, and prosperity. The sharing of amaro during these occasions reinforces bonds and celebrates communal values.

Contemporary Trends

While the tradition of amaro remains strong, contemporary producers are also experimenting with new flavors and production methods. Craft distilleries are emerging, offering innovative takes on classic recipes and attracting a new generation of amaro enthusiasts. This blending of tradition and innovation ensures that the heritage of Calabrian amaro continues to thrive.

The history and tradition of amaro in Calabria is a testament to the region's rich cultural heritage and artisanal craftsmanship. From its ancient medicinal roots to its modern-day significance, amaro embodies the essence of Calabria. Whether enjoyed as a digestif, a symbol of hospitality, or a celebration of life's special moments, amaro remains an integral part of Calabrian identity and tradition.

Curious about amaro? Go Go Calabria can organize an amaro tasting with some of our local award-winning amaro brands. Contact us to learn more.


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