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Italian Aperitivi and Digestivi Drinks

Italian Aperitivi and Digestivi Drinks


Various liqueurs and digestifs. All photos by Marla Gulley Roncaglia

The Italian way of eating is about the enjoyment of quality genuine food and drink. It is also about eating and drinking in a progression that will aid in proper digestion to enhance the overall experience.

When it comes to Italian drinks, the most obvious thought is usually coffee or wine for which Italy is so famous. You would, however, miss out on a vast range of afternoon and evening drinks shared with friends or consumed to stimulate the appetite or add the perfect finish to a meal. Most of these drinks have an alcohol content that ranges between 15% to 55%. In America, these type of drinks are loosely referred to by the French words aperitif (aperitivo in Italian), digestif (digestivo), and liqueurs. These categories are broad and difficult to categorize, as lines blur with many drinks considered to stimulate the appetite, aid digestion, or simply be pleasurable to drink. Here is a brief look at some of these popular Italian drinks.

Aperitifs

Before lunch or dinner, an aperitif is a light alcoholic beverage such as a sparkling white wine or a somewhat bitter drink to get the digestive juices flowing. In Italy, aperitifs usually arrive with a savory nibble sometimes called salatini. These small bites might be potato chips or peanuts, or an array of tiny crustless finger sandwiches topped with cheese, fish or meat paste, at no extra charge. Usually, from about 4-7 pm, especially in northern Italy and the larger cities, café bars have the Italian equivalent of happy hour called aperitivi, offering a selection of small bites to go along with your drink.

Drinks to look for

Prosecco: A refreshing sparkling white wine, usually dry, whose main grape varietal “Glera” may have originated in the small village of Prosecco close to Trieste. Now the most well known brands of Prosecco come from the hills outside of Treviso in the Veneto and the Fruili Venezio Giulia regions.

Bellini: A glamorous tall drink that consists of Prosecco, white peach purée, and a touch of raspberry for color. The bellini was created at the landmark Harry’s bar in Venice’s historic piazza San Marco.

Vermouth: Vermouth is a name given to a present-day family of aromatic white, rosé, and red fortified wines. The aromatics are a variety of roots, spices, flowers and herbs. These drinks have a long Italian history, reaching back to ancient times and said to have fortified the Roman troops. There are a vast array of vermouth styles, most coming from either France or Italy. Generally speaking, the dry white vermouths are considered to be French; sweet red vermouth, Italian, but almost all vermouth producers make both sweet and dry varieties. When vermouth is sweet, Italy calls it bianco. The red varieties derive their color from caramelized sugar. Red vermouth was first created in Turin around 1786 by Antonio B Carpano, and quickly became a favored drink of the Savoy king and his court. There are some rosé varieties, but they are less common. Other styles and brands born in the Piemonte region are Cinzano, Gancia, and Martini and Rossi, just to name a few. This classic Italian aperitif is always served chilled, neat, or with a splash of sparkling water and twist of lemon. In the US, vermouth is usually served in mixed drinks, but it is experiencing a bit of a renaissance.

Vermouth display from the Turin Carpano museum

Campari: A distinctively red colored, bitter aperitif made from an infusion of herbs and fruits. Most often served with sparkling water, white wine, or orange juice, this drink was invented in 1860 by Gaspar Campari, who began in Turin and then moved to Milan where he opened the now historic Caffè Campari — a popular meeting place for artists such as Giacomo Puccini. Until 2006, the drink was colored with carmine dye, derived from crushed cochineal insects.

Aperol: Similar to Campari, but lighter in color, half the alcohol content, and slightly less bitter. It is popular served with sparkling water. Aperol originated in 1919, and has since been bought by the Campari company, who now produces and distributes it.

Crodino and San Bittèr: a non-alcoholic beverage similar to Aperol that came on the market in the 1960s.

Cocktails

It’s fair to say there really isn’t a tradition of Italians drinking mixed cocktails. Most Italians prefer standalone drinks or very simple additions of sparkling water or juice.

Drinks to look for

Martini: 8 parts gin and 2 parts dry vermouth, a perfect martini uses equal parts of dry and sweet vermouth. However, today’s martinis tend to be drier with less vermouth.

Negroni: Equal parts gin, Campari, and red vermouth

White Negroni: Gin, white vermouth, and americano (a lower alcohol botanical wine)

Garibaldi: 3 parts Campari to 7 parts blood orange juice, made in honor of General Garibaldi who helped unite Italy into the country it is today. The color of the Campari and oranges refers to Garabaldi’s troops, who were called red shirts.

Digestifs (Digestivi)

Wildflowers and roots used in amaro recipes

Digestivi is a category also called Amaro or Amari, which translates to “bitter.” These drinks range from dark herbal medicinal drinks to lighter, still bitter drinks that can be quite interesting. Their flavors are complex mixtures of herbs, roots, barks, berries, spices, flowers, and citrus peels. Most Italian families have at least one bottle of Amaro on a shelf and usually some homemade variety. These drinks are usually considered after-dinner drinks and often serve as an aid to digestion, but they are also offered as a welcome drink when a friend drops by. They are usually drunk at room temperature, and never all at once – instead, small shots that are sipped. Only a small fraction of the extensive range of digestivi have made it to America, as Americans don’t embrace bitter flavor as commonly as in Italy. Try a few; you might find some of the flavors may grow on you as your palette expands.

Drinks to look for

Grappa: A usually clear distillate made from the leftover pressings of grapes from wine making. Flavors vary depending on the types of grapes used. Grappas with a touch of amber color have been aged in barrels. The northern town of Bassano del Grappa has tried to lay claim to the origin of grappa, but there is no firm proof, as distillation has been common all over Italy dating back to the first century. This strong spirit is never sweetened and sipped at room temperature, or added to an espresso coffee (listed on a menu as caffé corretto, or corrected coffee). Often, after the customary after-dinner espresso has been drunk, a splash of grappa will be added to “wash” out the sugar left at the bottom of the cup.

Alambicco used for distillation

Genepi: An infusion of flowers from varieties of wormwood plants that only grow in the Alps of Piedmont, Val d’Aosta in Italy and France. It is an alpine drink purported to aid digestion and altitude sickness. It is usually served after a meal at room temperature, or with friends in small shots to be sipped.

Fernet Branca: Probably one of the most recognizable and medicinal tasting of the Amaro category, Fernet Branca is dark colored with strong menthol flavor from a mix of peppermint and spearmint. It is a very flavor-forward drink and to my taste, not for the faint-hearted. It is made in Milan.

Amaro Lucano: Hailing from Pisticci, Basilicata, this drink has a lighter color but still intensely herbal flavor, with what might be called a chocolate and root beer finish.

Averna Amaro: An herbal-based amaro that is made more approachable with the addition of blood orange and lemon peel. It is made in Sicily.

Ramazotti: Considered to be one of the more modern and popular brands of Amaro, ramazotti has a lighter balance of bitter and sweet, with a ginger flavor that stands out. It is made in Milan.

Cynar: A lighter and flavorful bittersweet drink that is more approachable than many of the heavier, traditional amari. It has a lower alcohol content and artichoke as one of its 13 flavors.

Liqueurs

Limoncello: An intensely lemon flavored liqueur, most famously associated and produced from Sorrento, the Amalfi coast, and the island of Capri. Popular throughout all of Italy, limoncello is also often made at home from steeping lemon peel in grain alcohol until the oil is released, then sweetened with simple syrup. Limoncello is always served neat and icy cold.

Strega: Strega translates to “witch” and comes from Benvenuto, Campania, a town that has long harbored legends of witches. Strega’s characteristic yellow color comes saffron, and its sweet herbal flavor contains hints of mint and fennel among its purported 70 ingredients. It is usually drunk neat and is a key flavoring in Torta Caprese, a flourless almond and chocolate cake originating from the nearby island of Capri.

Sambuca: A sweet, usually colorless, anise-flavored liqueur. It is made with the essential oils of anise, star anise, licorice, and elderflowers. It is said to have been based on an anise-flavored drink that arrived from the east to the the major port city of Cittavecchia in the Lazio region. It is served neat, as an after-dinner or coffee drink. It pairs well with coffee and sometimes used to sweeten espresso, in place of sugar. It is often served as a shot con la mosca, or “with the fly”, with three coffee beans in the bottom of the shot to represent health, happiness and prosperity. Sambuca can also be lit to toast the occasion. Naturally, it must be extinguished and allowed to cool before sipping.

Italian Beer

Although most people don’t usually think of beer when they think of Italy, there are two brands that have been around for about 150 years: Birra Moretti from Udine, and Peroni originally from Pavia and now produced in Rome. Craft beers have really blossomed over the past 10 years and beer is finally finding a larger following with a steady growth of small microbreweries springing up over many parts of Italy. You can find Baladin craft beer in the US, and surely there will be more to follow.

"Italian Aperitivi and Digestivi Drinks" originally published on The Menuism Dining Blog.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


Italian Drinks: a Complete Guide to Italy’s Pre- and After-Dinner Drinks

Italy is not only famous for its delicious cuisine, iconic dishes and excellent wines, but also for its aperitivo culture, and its amazing choice of digestivi (digestive drinks). Typical (alcoholic) Italian drinks include Italian liquors, liqueurs, vermouths, fortified wines, dessert wines and grappas. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs, some as digestives, rarely as both, and some are paired with specific dishes or used in cooking.

A quick guide to Italy’s aperitif and digestif terminology

Aperitivo: an apertivo is meant to whet the appetite, and therefore it’s usually dry or bitter and low in alcohol. An exception to this are the famous Italian cocktails, which in Italy are usually consumed as an aperitif, but can still be a little sweeter, depending on the mixture. They are still much less sweet than international cocktails.

Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol, are famous Italian brands of aperitifs that are also used as ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.

Etymologically the term is related the Latin word aperire ‘to open’. Apparently, Italians already knew what recent research has demonstrated, that when mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter elements they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone. Most of the famous Italian aperitifs and pre-dinner cocktails are relatively bitter in taste (as compared to international standards). Indeed, bitter drinks challenge the liver, moderate hunger over the course of the meal and optimize digestion, resulting in a better management of blood sugar levels and fat storage. Sweet drinks and cocktails, on the contrary, tend to spike and dip appetite, they also decrease metabolic efficiency, prompting the body to store more fat.

Vermut or Vermouth: is an aromatized wine, with an alcohol content between 15,5% and 22%, an prime ingredient of many cocktails, Note that the Italian term “vermut” is legally reserved to beverages with an alcohol content of at least 15,5%, and 18% for the dry ones. As most Martini varieties have an alcohol content of 14,4% the term “vermut” no longer appears on the bottles.

Digestivi: popular Italian digestifs are the grappa, amaro and amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. By definition a digestivo is a drink served at the end of a meal to aid digestion. A sheer variety of digestive beverages are available in Italy, ranging from liquors, such as grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with herbs, or other aromas, such as amari. Note the difference between a liquor and a liqueur, which even in English are often confused. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage, such as grappa (or gin, tequila, for example). A liqueur is usually sweet and prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, herbs, spices, or fruit and flavoring agents, such as limoncello, amaretto, nocino, etc.

Amaro: is an aromatized liqueur, so the equivalent of a vermouth but with liqueur instead of wine. Most amari are bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, although there are also dry amari, such as the Amaro Averna, produced in Sicily. The production process usually consists of two phases: infusion, during which different aromas macerate in alcohol, blended with sugar syrup, and distillation. A special type are the amari centerbe each of which has a proprietary formula that generally includes various herbs, roots, leaves, barks, flowers and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties. They generally have an alcohol content between 27% and 42%. Not to be confused with amaretto, see below.

For a complete guide to Italy’s aperitivo culture and cocktails drinks, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails

List of Italy’s pre- and after-dinner drinks
(liqueurs, liquors, amari, aperitifs and digestifs)

Alchermes: an intensely scarlet red-colored Italian liqueur that was very popular in Firenze at the time of the Medici. It is made of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maces, coriander, anise flowers, orange zest and vanilla, and other herbs. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of cochineals. The term derives from the word alquermes, from the arabic al-qirmiz, meaning ‘scarlet’.

Amaretto: a generic name for a sweet Italian liqueur originally flavored from bitter almonds. The most famous one being the amaretto di Saronno. (see futher).

Amaretto di Sassello is an Italian sweet liqueur from Sassello in the province of Savona, Liguria. It is made from a base of various aromas and caramel, which gives it its typical color. The name is a diminutive of the Italian amaro, meaning “bitter,” indicating the distinctive flavor.

Aperol is an Italian brand of aperitif from the Campari company, which is made of bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb. For Aperol-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Centerbe or Centerba , translated as “one hundred herbs”, is a traditional Italian liqueur with a characteristic emerald green color made of digestive and medicinal herbs found on the Monte Morrone, Majella, Gran Sasso mountains, part of the Apennines. It is very common in Abruzzo, where it was originally known as cianterba. It is ususally drunk neat (undiluted), despite its 70% content of alcohol, or used to lace a coffee, milk or chocolate drink.

Cinzano , which also originated in Turin, is a sweet or dry vermouth (bitterer than Martini).

Campari (a sweet-bitter, red vermouth) was created in Milan. It was named after its inventor, Davide Campari who invented his drink in a Caffè at Piazza del Duomo in 1860. It can be served undiluted or mixed with mineral water, soda or white wine.For Campari-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Disaronno is a brand of Italian liqueur is an infusion of apricot kernel essential oil flavored with seventeen selected herbs and fruits. It is based on an original, secret recipe dating back to the year 1525. Despite its characteristic bittersweet almond taste the product does not contain any almonds or other nuts. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide.
The product was previously known as “Amaretto di Saronno” (Amaretto from Saronno) before it was changed to the current name “Disaronno Originale”, for marketing reasons.

Disaronno Amaretto is one of the few Italian drinks that is used both as an aperitif and digestif, stand-alone or as an ingredient in some cocktails, or, more commonly in coffee-based drinks. It is also a key ingredient in some Italian dessert recipes, such as tiramisù, chocolate mousse or fruitcakes. When consumed alone it can be served neat, on the rocks. Alternatively you can drizzle Disaronno over vanilla ice cream for a simple yet stunning dessert.

Fernet is a type of amaro, aromatically flavored with over 40 herbs and spices, among which saffron. It is used as a digestivo for its digestion-enhancing properties. It is also used to make the famous “caffè corretto”, a coffee spiked with liqueur. It may be served neat or on the rocks. In recent years it has also been used as an ingredient for cocktails all over the world.

Fragolino, similar to limoncello, but strawberry-flavored.

Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur from Piedmont, made of local hazelnuts infused in a solution of alcohol and water, part of which is distilled and later added to the infusion. The solution is blended with natural extracts such as cocoa and vanilla. The drink is enjoyed neat, on the rocks, with coffee or in a wide variety of stylish cocktails.

Galliano is a sweet, anise-flavored herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Arturo Vaccari, an Italian distiller of Livorno, Tuscany. The main ingredient of the liqueur is vanilla, which differentiates it from other anise-flavored liqueurs such as Sambuca. The liqueur also contains anise, of course, and licorice, with hints of peppermint, lavender, ginger, juniper, musk yarrow and cinnamon, with subtle citrus and woodsy herbal under notes. The production process is very complicated as it consists of seven infusions and six distillations.

In appearance Galliano is similar to Strega (see further). It is used both as a digestif and as an ingredient for cocktails. For Galliano-based cocktails, see: Italian cocktail drinks

Genepi is a liquor produced in the Alps and the Aoste Valley

Grappa is a liquor made from fermented peels, seeds and stems of grapes. It has a high alcoholic percentage and is transparent as water. It can be found natural or with various flavors (pears, prunes, and herbs).

Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, originally in the region around the Gulf of Naples. It is made from lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour since it contains no lemon juice. It can turn out bitter if the lemon rinds were peeled to grossly. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. The best limoncello is made with the lemons of Amalfi.

Limoncello in Amalfi. Photo © Slow Italy

Limoncino: a variant of limoncello produced in Liguria

Maraschino , an Italian cherry liqueur produced according to an original recipe dating from 1821. The sweet distillate is produced from a special type of cherries known as Marasca, which gave the liqueur its name. The components are infused in larchwood, after which the product is distilled in small copper pot stills. A combination of sugar and water is added before bottling. The rounded taste is smooth, but sharp with a surprisingly persistent aroma despite the moderate alcohol content.

Martini exists as white, red, rosato, extra dry and bitter “vermouth”, and is originally from Turin. There are many variations of martinis. The three most popular are dry, sweet and medium. For Martini cocktails, see Italian aperitivi and cocktails.

Mentuccia , a delicious mint liquor based on an infusion of mentuccia (Calamintha nepeta, known as lesser calamint) produced in Frosinone and consumed neat, in a chilled glass, or on the rocks.

Mentuccia degustation in the Taverna dei Sanniti, Pietrabbondante. Photo © Slow Italy

Mirto is a bitter Sardinian liqueur, obtained through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or or a mixture of berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (Mirtus Communis).

Home-made mirto liqueur. Photo by Giancarlo Dessi.

Two varieties of mirto exist: Mirto rosso (red), the most popular one, which is made with the berries and is sweet, and Mirto bianco (white), which is obtained from the leaves. As Mirto is always served very chilled, it is usually kept in the freezer for ideal serving temperature. Therefore, the bottling process is very important and the bottle is made of thick glass capable of withstanding very low temperatures.

Nocino or Nocello is a dark-colored walnut- and hazelnut-flavored liqueur from Modena, Emilia-Romagna. Nocello is similar in taste to Frangelico, with a sweet, rounded and balanced walnut flavour with vanilla tones.

Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, produced from the infusion of witch elder bush and licorice, sweetened with sugar and enhanced with a combination of herbs and spices. White Sambuca is the traditional and generally more popular variety, with a mellower licorice taste and lighter colored body than that of black sambuca, which is deep blue in color or red sambuca which is bright red.

Strega is a yellow, sweet liqueur with a slight aftertaste of anice. It contains aromatic herbs, sugar and safran.

Tuaca is an amber-colored, sweet liqueur, originally from Livorno, but since 2010 produced by the Tuaca Liqueur company of Louisville, Kentucky. It is made of brandy, flavored with orange essence and vanilla. The taste is bold, yet surprisingly smooth for a 35% alcohol content beverage. Tuaca is usually chilled and consumed neat, but it can also be mixed in cocktails.

Italy’s sweet dessert wines were purposely left out of this list as they deserve a chapter of their own: Italian dessert wines.

First published on www.yourguidetoitaly.com in June 2013 updated and redirected to Slow Italy.

More about Italian aperitifs and sweet dessert wines:

Photo credits: all photos © Slow Italy, except (from top to bottom), Centerbe by Dan Leone Fernet poster by fixedgear Maraschino by WillCookforFriends Strega by Carmine Savarese.


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