Amaro Nonino Quintessentia - Guide, Substitutes, & Cocktails

By Timo Torner / Last updated on August 3, 2023

Amaro Nonino is an Italian herbal liqueur containing 35% ABV. It has a bittersweet herbal taste with slight notes of orange and caramel and is a popular digestif.
Amaro Nonino bottle with grapes and oranges in background

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia is one of the more expensive members ($50) of the Amaro (Italian for bitter) family.

Nonino Quintessentia is somewhat difficult-to-find, yet it is a frequent recommendation of many renowned bartenders - despite the relatively high price point. So, what is so special about this liqueur?

What is Amaro Nonino Quintessentia?

Released in 1992 and named after its inventor, 4th generation distiller Benito Nonino, Amaro Nonino is a bitter liqueur. What distinguishes Amaro Nonino from its competitors is the base spirit which is their famed Grappa, an Italian grape-based pomace Brandy.

This Grappa, made from the freshest pomace, is infused with the Nonino family recipe including a large variety of herbs, flowers, barks, and roots - for instance, thyme, bitter orange, gentian root, wormwood, galenga, quassia wood, and saffron. Finally, the Amaro is refined with an aged Nonino Grape Distillate (min 12 months of aging).

Is Amaro Nonino a Digestivo or Aperitivo?

Simply put, Amaro Nonino is both, an Aperitif and a Digestif. Aperitif cocktails are usually low-ABV drinks supposed to increase appetite and stimulate digestion to help prepare our stomach for a scrumptious meal. Digestifs commonly contain more alcohol and have a bolder and more herbal taste.

Served neat, Amaro Nonino is an excellent digestif. If you want to use it as an Aperitif before your meal, mix it in an Amaro Nonino Spritz. Apply the classic ratios of 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Amaro, and one part chilled soda for a delicious, refreshing, and bittersweet Spritz cocktail.

What does Amaro Nonino taste like?

The taste of Amaro Nonino is a combination of bitter and sweet flavors from oranges, apricot, vanilla, caramel, and spicy herbal notes. The light sweetness and the addition of aged Grappa create a unique flavor profile. Due to its base, Nonino Quintessentia has a dominant fruity note, setting it apart from other Amari. Here's a summary for a better overview:

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia bottle on white background
  • Visual appearance - warm, golden, and almost reddish color with limited viscosity.
  • Aroma - Fruity, sweet, and herbal with notes of orange apricot, caramel, spice, and herbs.
  • Taste - Bittersweet combination of honey, caramel, orange, gentian roots, saffron, and pepper.
  • Overall - Anise-forward, herbal, and fruity with a delicate interplay of bitter and sweet. 

The alcohol content of Nonino Amaro

The range of ABV in Amari is wide. It starts at 11% ABV in Aperol and goes up to an alcohol content of 45% in Amaro Mandragola. Amaro Nonino is a comparably boozy liqueur, clocking in at 35% ABV.

Is there a good Amaro Nonino substitute

There are quite a few Amari you can use as a substitute. Two of the best Amaro Nonino substitutes are Amaro Averna and Amaro Tosolini. In general, your best bet when searching for a great alternative to Amaro Nonino Quintessentia is to opt for a rather boozy option with a restrained level of sweetness. 

Other possible alternatives include Amaro Montenegro and even Cynar. However, the flavor variety in these Amari is quite different from Nonino's. To get a better impression of how these substitutes compare to Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, here's a detailed overview.

Amaro Nonino Amaro Montenegro Amaro Averna Amaro Tosolini
Base Spirit Grappa (Italian grape-based pomace Brandy) Not specified Not specified Liquor in ash barrels
ABV 35% Unknown 23% 28%
Taste Profile Bittersweet with fruity notes Bitter and sweet with floral hints Sweet and syrupy with herbal notes Mildly bitter with herbal and vegetal flavors
Known Ingredients Various herbs, flowers, barks, and roots 40 herbs and botanicals including licorice root, saffron, and orange peel Pomegranates, essential oils of orange and lemon Curcuma, Angelica, Bitter Orange, Calamus, Eugenia Caryophyllata, Gentian, Artemisia, Rosemary, Star anise, levisticum
Color Warm, golden, and almost reddish Lighter appearance Dark Not specified
Flavor Notes Combination of bitter and sweet flavors from oranges, apricot, vanilla, caramel, and spicy herbal notes More floral than most other amari with rose petals, lavender, dried orange peel, and various spices Vanilla cream soda, coffee-flavored candy, gentian root, and fruit notes Wild fennel, roasted rhubarb, bitter orange, cinchona, and cinnamon

Amaro Nonino vs Averna

These two popular Italian bitter liqueurs have a similar flavor profile, but distinct differences. Amaro Nonino is made from Grappa, giving it a dominant fruity note, while Amaro Averna is infused with botanicals like pomegranates and orange essential oils. 

Amaro Nonino has a bittersweet combination of flavors, including honey, caramel, citrus, and saffron, while Amaro Averna is sweeter and syrupy with hints of vanilla and coffee-flavored candy. Nonino is versatile, serving as both an Aperitif and Digestif, while Averna is commonly enjoyed as a Digestif. Overall, Amaro Nonino offers a more fruit-forward profile, while Amaro Averna is known for its approachable sweetness.

Amaro Nonino vs Tosolini

While both belong to the Amari family, these two liqueurs have distinct flavor profiles and origins. Amaro Tosolini hails from Udine and features a mildly bitter taste with herbal and vegetal undertones. Nonino showcases bittersweet flavors like honey, caramel, and saffron, while Tosolini features wild fennel, roasted rhubarb, bitter orange, and cinnamon. Both are versatile and can be used in cocktails, but Amaro Nonino tends to be more fruit-forward, while Amaro Tosolini is characterized by its herbal and vegetal elements.

Amaro Montenegro vs Nonino

The two Amari are similar but have unique characteristics. Amaro Nonino, infused with Grappa and a fruity note, is versatile for Aperitifs and Digestifs, perfect for an Amaro Nonino Spritz. Amaro Montenegro, with 40 herbs, offers a lighter, floral taste, complemented by subtle bitterness from wormwood. Craft bartenders enjoy its balance and mixability. Both liqueurs bring delightful flavors to cocktails yet cater to different preferences.

How to drink Amaro Nonino

It is as enjoyable on its own as it is in mixed drinks. Although, the ideal way to serve it according to the brand is neat and at room temperature. This way, you can best taste the flavors of the Grappa base, the bitterness from ingredients like quinine, and the citrusy notes from oranges.

One of the standout features of Nonino Quintessentia is that it pairs herbal complexity with a low amount of sugar and a high alcohol content. That makes it an excellent base for a variety of cocktails.

Paper Plane Cocktail on bar counter garnished with small paper plane

For more inspiration here's a curated list of the best drinks to make with Amaro Nonino.

Best Amaro Nonino Quintessentia cocktails

1. Paper Plane

Invented by Sam Ross, this cocktail is a great example of how Amaro Nonino can bring complex flavors into drinks. The Paper Plane cocktail is made with equal measures of bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, and fresh lemon juice. This drink is actually a riff on another famous cocktail classic, the Last Word (gin, green chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur, lime juice) but Ross only took the template and replaced every single ingredient of the drink.

2. Amaro Nonino Spritz

Amaro Nonino Quitessentia also works excellently in a Spritz cocktail using the classic ratios of an Aperol Spritz - 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Amaro, and 1 part soda water. By replacing Aperol with Nonino, the drink gets a much darker, brownish color and an increased ABV. Even the flavor profile changes to more citrus and licorice-forward taste with a more pronounced grape flavor in the background.

3. Black Manhattan

In a classic Black Manhattan Averna is used as a substitute for sweet vermouth. However, in this case, Amaro Nonino is used to replace the sweet fortified wine. The result is a unique twist, where the flavor profile of the cocktail gets a distinct kick of licorice flavors. 

4. Miss Elena

This cocktail is an adaption from the recipe Beau Bradley created when working at Undercote in NYC. It's a delicious concoction consisting of vodka, coffee liqueur, Amaro Nonino, Pedro Ximenéz sherry, and rich syrup.

How long does it last?

Amaro Nonino lasts forever, so to speak. As a rule of thumb: any liquor above 18% ABV keeps forever - with exceptions. Further, sugar and alcohol increase shelf-life and Amaro Nonino comes packed with both. Therefore, it won't turn bad when stored in a cool and dry place.

It gets even better. Amari, in general, is infused with a blend of herbs, spices, barks, and more. That means you can let them mature just like other hard liquors. Plus, Amari can even evolve and age in the bottle.

Amaro collectors are often hunting for old bottles as the developed flavors are unlike anything you can not get from new ones.

History of Amaro Nonino Quintessentia

The story of Amaro Nonino Quintessentia begins in Friuli, located in the Northern part of Italy, close to the Slovenian border.

The Nonino distillery was opened in 1897 when Orazio Nonino started to make Grappa Nonino in Ronchi di Percoto. In its early days, his distillery only produced Grappa.

It took until 1933 when Antonio Nonino, son of Orazio, tried to utilize herbs from the Friuli region into an Amaro. He used the Grappa Nonino as a base and infused it with herbs from Carnia.

The result was the first Amaro from Nonino - its name was Amaro Carnia.

More than 50 years later, in 1984, they eventually laid the foundation of today's Amaro Nonino Quintessentia.

Giannola and Benito Nonnino started to develop a grape distillate in honor of their late father, Antonio. The result was a high-quality Grappa that brought the whole product range to a new level.

In 1987, the Nonino brand started to age this high-quality Grappa in small barrique barrels. This matured version is the base of Amaro Nonino as we know it today.

Eventually, in 1992, Amaro Nonino was produced for the first time. And since then, only Grappa that has aged for at least 12 months is used to make it.

The current recipe is based on Antonio Nonino's first Amaro creation from 1933 and makes one of the best-balanced Amaros in the market.


How much does it cost?

One 750ml bottle of the liqueur will cost you $50. Amaro Nonino isn't a cheap option, but it's well worth its price.

What is Amaro Nonino made out of?

Amaro Nonino is a herbal bitter liqueur based on Grappa. It's flavored with a secret blend of herbs, roots, fruits, and spices -refined with a 12-month-aged Grappa called ÙE.

What is the difference between Amaro and Amaro Nonino?

Amaro Nonino is part of the Amaro family. Amari are Italian bittersweet herbal liqueurs that contain between 11% and 45% of ABV.

Is Amaro Nonino the same as Campari?

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia and Campari are not the same, but both belong to the family of Amaro liqueurs. Campari is bright red, contains less alcohol, and has a more pronounced bitter taste.

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