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March 9, 2020

How to get an amaro education

Sitting at one new bar is like attending a master class on the popular liqueur

Billy Sunday has a collection of vintage spirits and liqueurs, with a focus on amaro. Kristen Wile/UP

On a recent Friday night, Jon and I went to KiKi for dinner, then made our way over to new cocktail bar Billy Sunday at Optimist Hall. Jon has been to the Chicago location of Billy Sunday and couldn’t wait for the Charlotte one to open, and after speaking to owner Matthias Merges about his philosophy on mixology, I was also looking forward to checking it out.

The staff was incredibly hospitable, and we waited just a few minutes before two spots opened up at the bar. Jon was thrilled to order a pour of vintage Old Grad-Dad, while I chose an amaro daiquiri.

Amari have become increasingly common in the U.S. over the last several years, but in Charlotte, they are yet to gain wide-spread popularity. Many who are familiar with amaro first think of Fernet-Branca, one of the more aggressive amari. The bitter Italian liqueurs, however, have an incredible range of flavor.

I didn’t know just how vastly different they could be until sitting at the Billy Sunday bar across from beverage director Stephanie Andrews. We asked to try some of the vintage amari in the $20 to $30 price range, and Andrews chose two pours for us. The first, a rabarbaro, was a true bittersweet sipper, taking your palate through a wave of flavor but finishing on that signature, lingering tartness. The second was an Alpine amaro, and tasted like a medley of most of the spices in your spice cabinet, but somehow in a harmonious way.

After hearing Andrews’ explanations of the two pours we tried, I realized how much more there is to learn about the digestif. I can’t wait for my next lesson. One of the reasons I’m most excited about Billy Sunday is that Andrews is now a resource for Charlotte, sharing her love and knowledge of amari with the city — and hopefully growing the city’s while she’s at it. —Kristen Wile

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