Averna Amaro Siciliano has been one of the more visible amari on US shelves for quite some time. If your local liquor store has only one amaro, it’s probably not going to be Meletti or Tosolini…more than likely it will be Averna. The recipe for the brand reportedly was developed by some Benedictine monks in Sicily back when Benedictine monks in Sicily had time to develop their own liqueur recipes. These monks were no doubt drinking the stuff purely for health reasons. In 1868, the monks presented the recipe as a gift to a generous benefactor and local textile merchant named Salvatore Averna. Now, to you and me, being handed a piece of paper with an old monk recipe on it might not seem like the greatest present, but Signore Averna was neither you nor me. At first, he produced the amaro just for family and friends, but by the end of the 1800’s, the booze had a reputation and Salvatore’s son Francesco was taking the family spirit on the road, building the new brand.
When Francesco Averna died, his wife Anna Marie ran the business until she passed the reigns to her children who managed to keep Averna in production through the first world war. At some point, presumably after Prohibition, Averna began importing to the U.S., and then managed to maintain production through a second world war. In 1958, The four grandsons of Salvatore Averna took the company public, calling itself Fratelli Averna S.p.A. By 1978, thanks to the amaro’s popularity in Italy and abroad, and the expansion of the company’s product line, Fratelli Averna S.p.A. had become a major player in the Italian wine and spirits industry. In 2014, the Averna family finally relinquished its hold on the company and sold it all to the Campari Group.
Today, while bottling and distribution is handled at the Campari facility near Milan, the main production of Averna still takes place in Caltanissetta, Sicily, where Salvatore Averna first made his version of the monks’ amaro. Like every amaro in existence, Averna’s recipe is a closely guarded secret, but their website does mention at least three ingredients: pomegranates, and the essential oils of orange and lemon. The production process is a fairly common one in the world of herbal liqueurs. First, the botanicals are batched and macerated in a high-proof grape spirit for a period of time. Then, it’s proofed down with water, sweetened with sugar, and filtered before a second round of maceration happens. After that, the whole run is vatted for a time to allow everything to “marry” properly. Amari typically range from the high teens to low 30’s in terms of alcohol by volume, with the majority, Averna included, being in the mid-20’s to low 30’s.
The Nose: Soft, more baking spice than herbal, lightly bitter. Lots of vanilla bean and a subtle bit of clove. Meyer lemon, orange peel, and crushed pomegranate seeds. A soda pop sweetness, too, Dr. Pepper maybe…or even, dare I say it, Mr. Pibb. The herbal components are fairly subdued, candied anise, quinine, and faint hint of sweetened pipe tobacco.
The Palate: Very sweet and syrupy. Vanilla cream soda. Mike & Ike candies, coffee flavored hard candy, The bitterness comes through mostly as gentian root, but it’s subtle. Just a bit of cinchona root as well. The fruit from the nose, grows towards the end with pomegranate syrup and candied orange slices.
The Finish: A nice dose of quinine rises up, along with earthier baking spices, helping to clear away some of that sweetness
Thoughts: If you like sweet liqueurs but are not sure about amaro, then golly, do I have an amaro for you! Averna is arguably the most visible amaro in the US at the moment, and perhaps for good reason. It’s quite good, but it’s also quite sweet, not too challenging, and relatively not too bitter. I guess that makes it a great introduction to amaro, though, comparatively speaking, it’s also a little on the high-end price-wise at $30-$34. Averna is very nice on ice, but for me, it’s a little too sweet and cloying to spend much time with neat. It’s spice forward flavor profile means it’s good one to experiment with in brown spirit cocktails. Definitely a classic, but definitely sweeter and softer, and perhaps a little less complex than other amari out there.
- “About Averna.” Amaro Averna | Averna Global, http://www.amaroaverna.com/about-averna. Accessed Aug. 2017.
- “Amaro Averna.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Aug. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaro_Averna. Accessed Aug. 2017.
- Parsons, Brad Thomas. Amaro: the spirited world of bittersweet, herbal liqueurs with cocktails, recipes & formulas. Berkeley, Ten Speed Press, 2016.