This page is about my love for some peculiar exotic elixirs, especially amaro and quinquina. The taxonomy is not obvious, especially for the uninitiated, so here's some basic vocabulary, with links to provide additional details:

My parents drank nothing more exotic than frozen daiquiris. Their bar, like most American home bars of the 1950s and 1960s, stocked a selection of cordials, but generally they just gathered dust. My German "father" during my exchange student year 1963-1964 liked Campari, not to mention Cinzano vermouths and wine/beer/schnapps. I mostly drank Alt (local Düsseldorf beer) that year, but I tasted Campari for the first time and I learned that Europeans drink vermouth on the rocks (as opposed to just using vermouth in mixed drinks, as in the US). A decade later, Campari became a standard drink for me, usually with soda or tonic, now typically in a negroni or an americano. I developed a taste for French apéritifs too, including Byrrh and St. Raphaël, though I didn't really understand quinquina at the time; I thought of it as odd-tasting red vermouth, which it is, but I didn't get the quinine connection.

When I moved to the Bay Area in 1968, I often ventured from dreary Palo Alto to exotic San Francisco, occasionally to North Beach. Back then, North Beach bars were populated by more locals than tourists, and the Italian-American oldsters in berets often drank shots of a mysterious toxic concoction called Fernet-Branca. Weird, but I liked it, so I bought a bottle. When I offered it to friends, they sniffed it cautiously, tasted a little, and typically compared it unfavorably to castor oil. Fast forward to another millenium: Fernet-Branca billboards appear in the gentrifying Mission, my sons in NYC take me to an amaro bar (Amor y Amargo) on the lower east side, and Mission ice cream vendor Humphry Slocombe has fernet fudge topping. Amaro is trendy in the early 21st Century.

Most liquor stores carry Campari and Fernet-Branca, but other amari can be difficult to find. I'm fortunate to be in San Francisco, where our local Mission district treasure Lucca Ravioli Company and K&L Wines have broad selections, and their websites have some useful tasting notes. In recent years, I've acquired a sizeable collection, listed below.

Most of the French and Italian producers have been around since the 19th Century (Carpano and Nardini since the late 18th!), and many of their old ads are wonderful. Campari still produces amazing artwork, including special labels. Campari and Fernet-Branca are sometimes available in decorative tins (see pictures below) during the holiday season.

This page lists only a few apéritifs, excluding grappa, pastis, ouzo, and most vermouths. So many choices, so little time... Santé / salute!

Aperol Fratelli Barbieri Italy 1919 11% website for classic Aperol Spritz but too fruity for me
Campari Davide Campari Italy 1860 24% website matchless
Cappelletti Americano Rosso Antica Erboristeria Cappelletti Italy 1909 17% website
Carpano Antica Formula Fratelli Branca Italy 1786 16% website wonderful vermouth all vaniglia
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino Giulio Cocchi Italy 1891 16% website
Lillet Maison Lillet France 1872 17% website
Mezzodi Distilleria Caffo Italy 15% website
Punt e Mes Fratelli Branca Italy 1786 16% website vermouth chinato
St. Raphaël Doré St. Raphaël France 1830 16% website
L'Aéro d'Or Kina Tempus Fugit Switzerland 18% website sharper and more bitter than other kinas
Alessio Vermouth Chinato Tempus Fugit Italy 16.5% website
Alessio Vino Chinato Tempus Fugit Italy 16% website
Bonal Gentiane-Quina Distillerie Bonal France 1865 16% website my favorite quinquina
Byrrh Grand Quinquina Caves Byrrh France 1873 18% website complex and delicous
Dubonnet Grand Aperitif Dubonnet USA 1846 19% website originally French but now made in USA
Mattei Cap Corse Blanc L. N. Mattei France 1872 17% website Corsican
Mattei Cap Corse Rouge L. N. Mattei France 1872 17% website Corsican
Maurin Quina Terres Rouge France 1884 16% website bitter almond and cherry
St. Raphaël Rouge St. Raphaël France 1830 16% website my standard for many years, recently available again in US
Averna Amaro Siciliano Fratelli Averna Italy 1868 29% website
Becherovka Jan Becher Czech Republic 1807 38% website great on ice after dinner
Bruto Americano St. George USA 2016 24% website from Alameda CA
Cardamaro Giovanni Bosca Italy 17% website
CioCiaro Soc. Paolucci Italy 1873 30% website herbal orange; substitute for Amer Picon
Fernet-Branca Fratelli Branca Italy 1845 39% website the classic
Fernet Francisco Falcon Spirits USA 40% website from Richmond CA; local herbs; not to my taste
Gran Classico Bitter Tempus Fugit Switzerland 28% website
Lazzaroni Fernet Amaro Paolo Lazzaroni Italy 1851 40% website
Luxardo Amaro Abano Girolomo Luxardo Italy 1821 30% website
Luxardo Bitter Bianco Girolomo Luxardo Italy 1821 30% website Campari-like
Meletti Silvio Meletti Italy 1870 32% website
Nardini Bortolo Nardini Italy 1779 31% website my favorite fernet!
Nonino Nonino Distillatori Italy 1897 35% website
Pellegrino Amaro Pellegrino Carlo Pellegrino Italy 1880 33% website lovely but hard to find
Ramazotti Fratelli Ramazzotti Italy 1815 30% website
Sonnema Berenburg Sonnema Dockum Netherlands 1860 30% website
Torani Amer R. Torre & Co. USA 39% website from Fairfield CA; great for mixing
Zucca Rabarbaro Ettore Zucca Italy 1845 16% website rhubarb

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