The vast and varied world of bitters, amaro and vermouth can be intimidating for the uninitiated. Here is a quick guide to get you oriented.
While Vermouth is most often consumed in cocktails, it is in fact a kind of wine. But don't expect a fruit-forward glass of pinot. Vermouth is herb-infused, giving it a bitterness that complements and adds depth to your favorite mixed drink.
Vermouth comes in two styles: Sweet and Dry. Sweet, also known as Italian Vermouth, is reddish-brown in color and sweetened with sugar. Dry, also known as French Vermouth, is straw colored and more bitter. Martinis are made with Dry Vermouth, and Manhattans and Negronis with Sweet Vermouth.
Derived from the medicinal use of herbs to treat and care for the stomach, Aperitivi (or Aperitifs) are served before a meal to help stimulate the appetite. True to it's origins, Aperitivi typically feature a vermouth or light amaro in cocktail form (think: Aperol Spritz).
Note: Amaro is a broad category, encompassing many bitter liqueurs from sweet Aperol to dark Fernet. Only the lighter ones (orange in color) are used in Aperitivi.
Whereas Aperitivi are consumed before a meal, Digetivi (or Digestifs) were created to help the stomach digest after a meal. Requiring some stronger herbs, Digestivi are typically the darker amari.
Made with varying botanicals, the flavors of Amari can vary greatly, some sweeter with orange peel, and others strong with hints of coffee and eucalyptus. Each producer uses their own proprietary blend, so make sure to read the description to get a sense of what it will taste like!
Fernet is in fact a type of Amaro, and perhaps the most widely recognized. The darkest and most bitter of all the Amari, it has a distinctive licorice flavor and particularly bitter profile. But even the styles of Fernet can vary, so if Fernet Branca isn't for you, give another one a try.