What happens when you pair Chinese wisdom of medicinal herbs with Italian expertise in bitter liqueurs? Of the many tasty tinctures, rabarbaro, the Italian amaro made from Chinese rhubarb, makes an impression. Difficult to spell, even more challenging to pronounce, rabarbaro is actually a category of bitter liqueurs whose principle flavor comes from the dried rhubarb rhizome (underground stem) and an assortment of other botanicals such as citrus peel and cardamom seeds.
Cocktail aficionados have a special appreciation for rabarbaro’s smoky quality. Unlike mezcal, which gets its aroma directly from wood-smoking the agave plant, the rhubarb plant’s chemical compounds naturally deliver a smoky fragrance. One brand of rabarbaro, Sfumato (from the Italian word fumo or “smoke”), is named specifically for this quality, which blends with alpine herbs and berries to make a “nuanced bitter woodsiness.” Milan’s well-known Zucca Rabarbaro owes its “hickory smoked red pepper aroma” to rhubarb grown in the Gansu province of China, where the prized plant has been harvested and exported for centuries.
Rabarbaro’s origins likely came out of the medicinal tinctures made using the root. Although it has a reputation for anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and laxative effects in large doses, moderate imbibers experience rabarbaro for taste rather than health. Aside from being a fine aperitif, the liqueur plays nicely where other amari mingle, such as in a Negroni in place of Campari, as a riff on a Manhattan, or, for a truly brooding brew, mixed with mezcal and sparkling wine.
Visit Italy with Atlas Obscura Trips
Rome Behind Locked Doors: Music, Magic, and Secret Crypts
Join us as we go beneath Rome’s streets and behind its locked doors to explore hidden and overlooked places, witnessing a capital city that most tourists rarely experience—strange, magical, and filled with intrigue.
Where to Try It
Zucca's BarPiazza del Duomo, Milan, 20123, Italy
Located in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Zucca's Bar features rababaro.
This Chicago bar has one of the most expansive amaro collections in the city.