In Italy, drinking amaro is for traditionalists; in America, it's for the adventurous. You're basically drinking a glass of bitters, but unlike that bottle of Angostura you bought at the supermarket, there's a bewildering variety of bittersweet, herbal liqueurs now available in this country, and little guidance on how to choose, serve, or mix them.
That's what makes Brad Parsons's new book so valuable. His previous book, BITTERS, turned out to be a gateway into the world of amari, and Parsons is an American uniquely qualified to break down the subject for newbies. The Italians themselves disagree on what is or isn't an amaro -- linguistic confusion and the lack of industry regulations don't help -- but Parsons argues that it's an umbrella term covering aperitif bitters, digestif bitters, and fernets, some of them already familiar to us (Campari, Jägermeister, Underberg, Becherovka), most of them totally unfamiliar.
A generous section of flavor profiles is followed by over a hundred pages of cocktail recipes, not including a selection of delicious-looking amaro desserts (I can't compliment Ed Anderson's photography highly enough). I immediately tried a couple of the recipes: the Boulevardier (a bourbon Negroni) and the Hanky-Panky (a martini variant with Fernet-Branca) were very tasty indeed, and I'm looking forward to trying more cocktails as my amaro selection expands. I can appreciate the irony of Americans getting into amaro just as young Italians are giving them up in favor of cocktails and Jack Daniel's: never underestimate the lure of the new.