Amaro di Sant’Antimo is a bitter liqueur created by monks in the Tuscan town of Montalcino. The liqueur’s key ingredient is the Carlina acaulis plant, a thistle-producing flower with a golden center and silvery-white petals. The plant gives an earthy, artichoke-like taste to this digestivo, which is perfect to sip after a heavy Italian meal.
Legendary origins of the drink go back to the eighth century. According to lore, Charlemagne’s troops, battling in the valley where the Abbey of Sant’Antimo now stands, had contracted the plague. Miraculously, an angel appeared, holding the Carlina acaulis flower, which was used in a curative tincture. In thanks, Charlemagne ordered a church built on the site.
There’s no proof of this story, but Carlina acaulis has been revered in the area since medieval times. Many people hung the plant outside as a kind of hygrometer (the flowers close in damp weather and open in dry weather) or used it for medicinal purposes. Benedictine monks at the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, founded in the 9th century, eventually morphed their plant-infused healing potion into the amaro.
The abbey, which was rebuilt in the 12th century, is a stunning example of Romanesque architecture, with a landscape dotted with olive groves, wheat fields, and Carlina acaulis plants. When the monks are not praying in the church or working the land, visitors can find them in the pharmacy, selling the fruits of their labors, including cosmetics, sweets, beer, and amaro di Sant’Antimo.