Here's a roundup of Italian liqueurs from Averna, a company that's been making spirits on Sicily since the 1860s. In general you'll find non-wine drinks divided into two categories: aperitivi e digestivi, or pre-dinner drinks to whet your appetite and after-dinner drinks to aid digestion. While these can be used in a variety of cocktails or taken with coffee (and I'll cover some of these in the future), for here I'm covering them straight in the digestivo tradition, and indeed I had them after a hearty dinner.
$25, 42% abv.
The classic sweet, licorice-flavored liqueur, made with star anise. I poured a shot of this for the photo and immediately The Roommate freaked out. Some folks are sensitive to anise aromas and flavors, but I love it. Lots of sweetness here, and a hot and spicy mouthfeel.
Averna Sambuca Agrumi
$25, 42% abv.
Similar to the above is a citrus Sambuca, flavored with bitter Sicilian lemons and grapefruit. This is a bit drier and lighter than the straight Sambuca, and I enjoyed the dominant citrus aroma/flavor with the star anise in the background. Also, it's more bitter, and I prefer that style.
Averna Limoni di Sicilia
$25, 27% abv.
The lightest of the four in terms of alcohol, this is flavored with lemon and orange blossoms. Again, it's a sweet liqueur, but this is light and mellow. It's much more restrained than limoncello and has a lovely flavor, like a lemon meringue pie. I can see some incredible dessert potential with this one.
Averna Amaro Siciliano
$25, 32% abv.
The fourth liqueur is the flagship product, an amaro or "bitter" that is dark and rich. It has the lightest and most subtle aroma, with hints of chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, root beer, and flowers. There's just a slight touch of this meaty soy sauce aroma as well. It reminds me a lot of stepping into a shop that sells a bunch of dried flowers, combined with Christmas. It's about as bitter as espresso, and needs to be sipped slowly. Certainly the driest of the four, and my favorite. Also, I think the alcohol level in this one is just right, so that it's not too hot or too light.
However... The high proof of the Sambuca allows you to do a little trick that some folks like. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. IT CAN BE DANGEROUS. Either in a shot glass, a tumbler, or a snifter, you can ignite Sambuca. Here I've got about 2 oz., and once tilted you can get a pretty impressive jet engine effect from the flame. Bear in mind that barware really isn't designed to deal with these kind of temperatures, and the glass might shatter. Also, once the flame is extinguished it might not be completely out. Swirl the glass again and if it catches on fire, you probably don't want to risk pouring it in your mouth.
Tradition suggests putting it out with the palm of your hand, but this is a bad idea, especially if you're enjoying it after a long dinner full of wine and food. Cover the top with a small plate and let all the oxygen burn out, and allow the drink to cool a bit before drinking. The first thing that will happen is you'll get hit with strong fumes from the drink, and once you've recovered, you can give it a careful sip.
Why do this? Well, for one thing it looks awesome when the lights are low, and for another the fire slightly caramelizes the sugars in the liqueur, altering the flavor a bit. It's too hot right now to properly appreciate a warm liqueur, but I'll be giving this another try this winter.
Note: These bottles were received as samples.