Deconstructing Amaro, Part 2

The ups, downs, twists, and turns of making your own homemade spirit

The making of amaro.

Quite a lot can happen in two months time, I’ve come to find out. This past April I settled on a fairly complex recipe for housemade amaro after a few weeks of tweaking proportions and ratios of ingredients and differing lengths of time for steeping processes. The "green" amaro was packed full of distinct layers of flavor with rows of exclamation points following them. They were choppy layers, though, with transitions like a wrecking ball pummeling through the brick walls of a dilapidated building. It was young, not necessarily raw, but reeking of promise. The solution to rounding out those flavors was to let the spirits rest in a used whiskey barrel from a local distillery. There was however, great risk in deciding when to drain the barrel, since too little time wouldn’t refine those rough edges enough and too much time would overwhelm the subtler herbs and spices. My nerve-racking anticipation of the final product was being fed by two shaky hands: hedonist excitement on the left, and the rather considerable investment my boss put into this little experiment on the right.

Once in a while I’d offer a sample to one of the more intrepid customers who came into the bar, a crew of masochist guinea pigs who enjoy being tested. After, I’d let them know how many weeks in oak it had spent so far the usual response was, "Well... how long does it take?" To which I would bluntly respond, "I have no idea." I pulled samples and tasted the amaro every Saturday night toward the end of my shift, trying to analyze the flavor profile objectively and not get clouded by what I thought I should be tasting. It’s sometimes difficult to avoid those sensory mirages; when you’re tasting wine with someone who suggests, "I get a lot of apple up front with a little grass in the back" and suddenly that’s all you can taste. Over the course of the first four weeks, hesitation grew into confidence that the barrel was working its magic. It’s uncanny how dramatic the effects of charred oak from a used barrel can have on freshly macerated spirits. That "Goldilocks" period I referred to before occurred between week eight and nine, and I emptied out the barrel, strained and filtered the amaro, and began bottling in stripped down 375’s that once held our house muscat.