Italian Cocktails: The Art of the Aperitivo


aperol-spritz-italian-cocktails

The Italian aperitivo is an invention that I regularly thank the cocktail gods for. Italy delivers a scrumptious selection of refreshing cocktails in this category that take me to my happy travel place, even when I’m not traveling.

In true Italian fashion, there are of course rules about when you can enjoy these delicious and sparkly drinks. A cocktail that is most acceptable before a meal, the aperitivo is meant to stimulate the appetite. Like you need stimulation to eat if you happen to be in Italy? While it is widely accepted, and even encouraged, to order an aperitivo before a meal, it is also a perfect drink to accompany an afternoon snack or light lunch. Just don’t order one with a full meal or even worse, after it; this will earn you a disapproving look that means you broke an Italian drink rule, which may or may not be emphasized by the dreaded finger shake.


Driving the speed limit, waiting your turn in line? Mere suggestions! But the Italians are serious about their food and drink rules. Basically, you can drink an aperitivo any time after cappuccino time ends, as long as it’s not the main drink accompanying a meal. For clarification on cappuccino time and other coffee drinking rules, see my guide to Things I’ve Learned in Sicily. No matter where or when you drink an Italian aperitivo, one of these sparkling cocktails will transport your mind and body to a bustling piazza in Rome, a cafe tucked away in the streets of Venice, or a cliffside village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea!



Aperol Spritz


The Aperol Spritz is the quintessential Italian aperitivo. A cocktail that conjures images of street side cafes and rooftop terraces with views of cobblestoned streets, sprawling piazzas, or crystal blue waters. Aperol is a slightly bitter, orange flavored liqueur that is paired with sparkling wine and topped with club soda to make the famous spritz bearing its name. Bubbly and light with just enough sweetness, an Aperol Spritz (or two!) is a perfect drink to have on a sunny day spent dreaming of Italy.


italian-aperitivo-aperol-spritz

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz Aperol

  • 3 oz Prosecco

  • 1 oz Gassosa (or Club Soda)

  • Orange slices for garnish

Directions:

Fill a glass half full with ice. Pour Prosecco and Aperol over the ice. Add a splash of Gassosa or Club Soda. I prefer Gassosa, but this may be hard to find if you're not in Italy. Garnish with an orange slice. Salute!



Campari Spritz


Italians love a bitter flavored aperitivo. Why, you ask? Some research says that bitter flavors stimulate the appetite, while it's also known that certain bitter ingredients can aid in digestion. We may not know for sure why most aperitivi (plural) include a little burst of bitter in them, but what we do know is that the Italians are experts when it comes to pairing flavors in food and drink. So bring on the Campari!


italian-aperitivo-campari-spritz

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz Campari

  • 3 oz Prosecco

  • 1 oz Gassosa (or Club Soda)

  • Lemon or orange slices for garnish

Directions:

Fill a glass half full with ice. Pour Prosecco and Campari over the ice. Add a splash of Gassosa or Club Soda. Garnish with a lemon or orange slice. Spice things up by adding olives, or even cocktail cherries!



Etna Spritz


Also referred to as an Amaro Spritz, I discovered this Sicilian take on the classic aperitivo in a town just north of Catania. Technically, almost all of the drinks discussed here are made with a type of Amaro, as amaro is the Italian word for bitter! Aperol and Campari both actually belong to the Amaro family. There is a huge variety of flavors in Amaro, ranging from extremely bitter to slightly sweet, and even some that have a gin-like botanical flavor (in my non-expert opinion). The Amaro dell'Etna is a local variety that I have come to enjoy quite a bit, but it falls a little on the bitter side so I add just a dash of simple syrup to my spritz when I use it. I know, adding sugar to a drink that's supposed to be bitter is blasphemy, but I am after all, just an American living in Italy.


italian-aperitivo-etna-spritz

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz Prosecco

  • 2 oz Amaro

  • 1 oz Gassosa or Club Soda

  • Dash of Simple Syrup (optional)

  • Orange slice and Rosemary sprig for garnish

Directions:

Fill a glass half full with ice. Pour Amaro, simple syrup and Prosecco over the ice, then the Club Soda. Stir gently just a few times to combine the flavors. Garnish with an orange slice and a rosemary sprig to make it pretty and add some extra Etna flavor!



Negroni

The Negroni is one of the classiest cocktails around. It even has a noble history! Dating back the to the early 1900's, the Negroni was invented by and named after an Italian Count in Florence. Apparently the Americano cocktail which was popular at the time wasn't quite strong enough for him, so he asked for the drink to be made with Gin instead of soda water. Indeed, with a 1:1:1 ratio of the ingredients, this drink is a triple threat! Despite the bitter flavor of the Campari, if you can find the right Gin and Vermouth to pair it with, the Negroni will go down dangerously easy. Here's to you, Count Negroni!

italian-aperitivo-negroni-cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz Gin

  • 1 oz Campari

  • 1 oz Vermouth

  • Lime wedge and mint leaves for garnish (a traditional Negroni is made with an orange peel)

Directions:

Pour ingredients into a small glass with a few cubes of ice. Stir just to combine, then strain the drink into a small tumbler with fresh ice or a large cube. Garnish with lime and mint for a refreshing twist.



Negroni Sbagliato


All the best drinks begin with a good story, and the Sbagliato is no different. It all started at a bar in Milan, when a bartender who was making a Negroni accidentally grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine instead of gin. This mistake gave birth to the Negroni Sbagliato, due to the fact that sbagliato means "mistaken" in Italian. Regardless of its origin, I think it's quite delicious. The Prosecco lightens it up a bit, which I think makes it a perfect afternoon cocktail for those days when you're feeling particularly Italian.


italian-aperitivo-negroni-sbagliato

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz Campari

  • 1 1/2 oz Vermouth

  • 1 1/2 oz Prosecco

  • Lemon or orange slices for garnish

Directions:

Fill a glass half full with ice. Pour Campari and Vermouth over the ice. Top with Prosecco and stir gently just a few times to combine. Garnish with lemon or orange slices.




Americano


Speaking of Negroni variations, this is the actual drink that started it all. It was originally called the Milano-Torino due to the origin of the two main ingredients, Campari coming from Milan and Vermouth first being commercialized as a spirit in Torino (it was previously only used pharmaceutically). Legend has it that the drink's name was changed in the early 1900's due to its popularity with American tourists. This is a little funny to me, because most Americans tend to gravitate away from bitter flavored cocktails. Although I feel a resurgence of classic cocktails coming and think that many of us are learning to appreciate a wider variety of mixology. Cheers to all of us expanding our drink palates!


italian-aperitivo-americano-cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz Campari

  • 1 1/2 oz Vermouth

  • 1 -2 oz Club Soda

  • Orange slices, lemons, or cocktail cherries for garnish

Directions:

Pour ingredients into a small glass with a few cubes of ice. Stir just to combine, then strain the drink into a small tumbler with fresh ice or a large cube. Garnish with orange or lemon slices, or the way I like it, with Maraschino cherries!



Hugo


For those of you not quite ready to ride the bitter train, let me introduce you to the Hugo. I first experienced the magic of a Hugo Cocktail in Northern Italy, and it instantly became my favorite aperitivo. Sometimes called the Hugo Spritz, or sometimes just the Hugo (pronounced "oo-go" in Italian), I can't even describe how incredibly refreshing this drink is. Word is that the Hugo was invented by a bartender in Bolzano, which would explain its popularity in the Northern Italian region; however, it can be found all over Italy, as well as most other countries in Europe. Believe me, I look for it everywhere I go. There are variations with garnishes, but my favorite is with lime and mint. If heaven were a cocktail, this would be it.


italian-aperitivo-hugo

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz St. Germaine (or other Elderflower Liqueur)

  • 3 oz Prosecco

  • Splash of Gassosa or soda water

  • Fresh Mint leaves

  • Lime or lemon slices for garnish

Directions:

Fill a wine glass half full with ice. Rub a few mint leaves in your hands to release the oils and place them on the ice. Pour the St. Germain and Prosecco over the ice. Add a splash of Gassosa or soda water. I'm spoiled with Gassosa here in Italy, but soda water works just as well. Garnish with a lime wedge. You're welcome.



Have I got you missing Italy yet? Until the time is right for you to book your next trip, I hope these cocktails will bring a little bit of Italy to you. Just mix up one of these bubbly beverages and you will instantly become fluent in the language of the Italian aperitivo!

Drop your comments below and let me know what you think! For more recipe ideas, visit my Travel Inspired Cocktails. Want to get notified when new recipes are posted? Subscribe to my site at the bottom of this page.

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