Food

Five Italian Drinks Par Excellence

“The magic of drinking is bringing people together to enjoy a glass (or two). The beauty of the Italian Aperitivo is exactly this,

but multiplied tenfold…”

 

Antonio Benedetto Carpano – my hero. There are many people from history I would like to thank: Socrates, Nelson Mandela, Alexander Fleming … the list, of course, is endless. But let’s be honest, when it comes to thanking someone for the ultimate moment of bliss, Antonio is the man. An 18th century Italian distiller, credited for inventing modern vermouth in 1786 in Turin, believed that his combination of fortified wine mixed with various herbs and spices was the perfect appetite stimulant and thus the infamous and perhaps most cherished of all Italian traditions, the ‘Aperitivo’, began. 

 

The magic of drinking is bringing people together to enjoy a glass (or two). The beauty of the Italian Aperitivo is exactly this, but multiplied tenfold due to the fact that this tradition of a drink before dinner is unified across the country – an almost sacred time between the hours of 7 and 9pm.  Italians, old and young, from north to south sit down, watch the sunset, sip their cocktail or wine of choice and sigh their stresses of the day away. It is La bella vita at its best. 

 

In other parts of the world there is Happy Hour; same time, same concept but miles, and I speak metaphorically here, apart. The name ‘Happy hour’ is rather insulting: may I not be sad, angry, excited or possibly elated while I drink my cocktail or must we all succumb to the same level of smileyness? Aperitivo derives from the Latin word for ‘opener’, signifying that this drink, invariably accompanied by a small plate of nibble food, is to open a meal. And here we have it, my rather jovial point that the proof of their differences is in the name. There are no ‘buy one get one frees’ leading to inevitably fun but forgetful nights but rather a dignified structure lies at the root of the Aperitivo; it is a daily passage, one deeply ingrained in Italian tradition, that ‘opens’ onto the next celebrated Italian passage; La cena (dinner).  

 

And now for specifics; what to drink at this convention. Although I urge you to save room for the country’s renowned wines, here are five Italian cocktails, each a firm favorite at the Aperitivo, that should not go un-sipped during your next visit to Italy: 

 

 

Americano

 

The Americano, not to be confused with the (unnecessarily diluted) hot coffee, is a genuine classic and a perfect introduction to the world of Italian cocktails. Three ingredients come together to unite in palatable perfection; the vermouth adds sweetness, the Campari, a bitter yet fruity inclusion and the soda, besides adding pleasurable longevity, finishes off the drink with a refreshing fizz. Invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari and first served at his Milanese bar, Caffè Campari, the drink was originally called the ‘Milano-Torino’; a namesake to the cities from where the two alcohols originate. The name Americano was not christened for another sixty or so years when during the prohibition period, Italians noticed how many Aperitvo-deprived American tourists were ordering the cocktail. 

If eager to get drinking, take a tip from James Bond. He orders the Americano right off the plane at Rome Ciampino airport in From Russia With Love. 

 

The recipe: 

 

1 part Campari

1 part sweet vermouth 

A splash of soda water

 

Pour the Campari and vermouth into a highball glass filled with ice, top up with soda water and garnish with a lemon slice. 

 

 

Negroni

 

If the Americano sounds good but the notion of an extra kick sounds great, then you are on the same page as Count Camillo Negroni, the supposed concoctor of this sun-kissed delight. In 1919 in Florence the Count asked the bartender at Caffè Casoni (now Caffè Giacosa) to strengthen his usual Americano by substituting the soda for gin. To distinguish this revelation the bartender added an orange garnish in place of the Americano’s typical lemon slice. 

Classified under the IBA ‘Unforgettable’ category and progressively making its way up the world’s top ten cocktail list, the Negroni is also favoured by bartenders for its easy three-part, equal measure concoction. Let’s call it bittersweet perfection! 

 

The recipe: 

 

1 part Campari

1 part sweet vermouth 

1 part gin

 

Add the three ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake well and strain into a glass over ice. Garnish with a twist of orange peel. 

 

 

Aperol Spritz

Move over Campari and let’s welcome Aperol, its fun loving, decidedly more orange, less on the bitter and considerably sweeter cousin. Named as a play on the word ‘Aperitivo’, the spirit was invented in Padua by two brothers in 1919. The recipe is said not to have changed since and for good reason; this sunshine colored liqueur, with its strong citrus flavours, poured over ice and topped off with a good measure of Prosecco makes for the ultimate summertime cocktail. Moreover, Aperol’s lower alcohol content of just 11% calls for a definite second round!  

 

The recipe: 

 

1 part Aperol

1 part Prosecco 

A splash of soda water

 

Fill a wine glass with ice and pour in equal parts of Prosecco and Aperol. Add a splash of soda water and garnish with an orange slice. 

 

Hugo

The newcomer of Italian cocktails, but not one to miss, the Hugo was created in 2005 by a bartender in the province of South Tyrol in northern Italy. Swapping the Aperol with a good glug of Elderflower syrup, a garnish of lime and a sprig of mint, this Spritz-inspired drink is as refreshing and summery as it gets. As for its name, bringing British schoolboys sporting tartan trousers to mind, this was down to totally random picking; although if the story be true, the barman had originally wanted to call his concoction Otto (Italian for the number eight) but deemed it inappropriate. A great shame if you ask me. We could do with an excuse to drink eight of these delightful refreshments; I would cheer to that!   

 

The recipe: 

 

1-2  tbsp Elderflower syrup 

Prosecco, chilled

A splash of soda water

A couple mint leaves

 

Pour the Elderflower syrup and Prosecco over ice in a wine glass. Add a splash of soda water, give it a stir and garnish with mint leaves and a wedge of lime. 

 

 

Bellini

Another man to put our hands together for is Guiseppe Cipriani, the founder of the fabulous Harry’s Bar situated in Venice, which in recent years was made a much-deserved national landmark. Without him, Prosecco and peaches, a match made in heaven (trust me, Harry’s bar is paradise on earth), may very well never have united and we would be dealing with the star-crossed lover syndrome all over again. Alas, there is no need for a Romeo and Juliet sequel as in 1948, experimenting with sweet Prosecco and white peach purée, Cipriani created the perfect two-to-one ratio and the beloved Bellini was born. Named by him for the strong resemblance in its colour to the pinkish hues used by the Renaissance master-painter, Giovanni Bellini, this peach-perfect concoction is a must-try twilight tipple but also makes for a delicious brunch addition.

 

The recipe:

 

3 ounces dry Prosecco, chilled

1 ounce cold white peach puree (preferably fresh)

 

Pour the Prosecco into a champagne flute and top with the peach purée