My month of drinking amaro (Duncan was right: I should use the singular for consistency) certainly had its ups and downs. As hard as I try, I can't develop a taste for Fernet Branca, and I think the Argentine approach (mixed with Coke) is if anything even more palate-searing than having it straight. Cynar may taste nothing like the artichokes from which it is made, and one should be thankful for that, but it is still powerfully astringent and unapproachable for a neophyte. But they have nothing on Unicum, a Hungarian bitter which has been described as "smelling like a hospital corridor" and having "a flavour akin to hairspray", and sits on the shelves of Motel looking like an evil version of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Motel's cocktail list has a drink that includes real gunpowder, but it lacks firepower compared to this dark and impenetrable Mitteleuropean concoction.
So is the drinking of various amari nothing but a display of macho masochism? Not at all, since the best are truly delicious after your palate has adjusted. Capitol is indeed the amaro capital of Wellington, featuring some exquisite and obscure liqueurs involving myrtle, gentian and other aromatic herbs. But my favourite discovery had to be Barolo Chinato, a much richer blend than expected, based upon the namesake wine and the addition of quinine.
Motel, Matterhorn, Scopa and Good Luck all have good selections, and many an evening was lost in contemplation of Averna, Ramazotti and their cousins (such as Becherovka, which with its light body, high alcohol content and cinnamon notes is more like a spirit than an amaro). But I guess I'm not a true purist, since my favourite amaro moment of the month was a "Johnny Roselli" cocktail (click the "drink" tab) at Hawthown Lounge: Montenegro, Dubonnet and really good dark rum, with a twist of flamed orange peel to tie it all together. Hmm, I can feel a return to cocktails in the near future...