Amari are just not the sorts of spirits that inspire a broad-based deep, abiding love. They’re bitter and herbal—some taste like cough medicine, some taste like spoiled licorice, some taste like loneliness. None of this is to say that amari do not make great drinks. The world would be a sad place without Negronis and Aperol Spritzes (although we might be okay without Jäger Bombs), but because amari’s flavors are so potent and so polarizing, they are usually better experienced within the ecosystem of a cocktail.
That is not the case with Caffé Amaro from Kansas City’s J. Rieger and Co. J. Rieger is one of the oldest names in Midwestern whiskey, and before Prohibition, the brand claimed to be the largest mail order alcohol business in the country. But, as with most pre-Prohibition success stories, it vanished after the 18th Amendment passed. In recent years though, J. Rieger has gone through a rebirth thanks to Kansas City bartender, bar owner and new partner in J. Rieger, Ryan Maybee. Not long after Maybee opened Manifesto in 2009, which appears on every shortlist for best cocktail bar in the city, he entered discussions with Andy Rieger about restarting the distillery. Rieger (the only living member of the Rieger line at the time) agreed, and by 2016 the reinvigorated J. Rieger and Co. had filled its product line with an entirely new style of whiskey—Kansas City whiskey, blended with sherry—a vodka, a gin and the Caffé Amaro.