Italy is famous for its picturesque countryside, hospitable people and its food and unique Italian drink culture. So, what alcoholic beverages do Italians love to drink? The answer to this question is long and extensive. Alcoholic drinks in Italy include beer, wine, dessert wines, vermouth, liquors, and liqueurs. There are so many Italian drink options and variations that this article will focus on popular liquors and liqueurs.
Italians liquors and liqueurs are made to be either aperitivo (before a meal) or digestivis (after a meal). Some can be enjoyed all day long. Although a few of them can be enjoyed both preceding a meal and following a meal, you may be considered uncultured by aperitivi/digestivi purists if you make the wrong drink selection!
An aperitivo is designed to whet the appetite. To do this, it is usually bitter or dry and low in alcohol. But there are always exceptions to the rule! Aperol, Campari Italy, Cinzano, Fernet, Frangelico, Galliano, and Martini, are celebrated Italian liquor drink brands of aperitifs that are also the main ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails.
A digestivo is designed to aid digestion, usually you drink this after a hearty Italian meal which normally has a minimum of three courses. Popular digestifs are the amaro, grappa, centerbe, sambuca, genepi, strega and amaretto. Digestive Italian drinks range from liquors, e.g., grappa, to liqueurs, alcohols infused with different aromas and herbs, e.g., amari.
Italian Liquors And Liqueurs
Yes, there’s a difference between a liquor and a liqueur when it comes to Italian drinks. A liquor is an unsweetened distilled alcoholic drink, for example, tequila and gin. A liqueur is somewhat sweet and made by infusing neutral spirits with herbs, sugar, spices, or fruit and flavouring agents, for instance nocino, amaretto, and limoncello.
Here are some of our favourite Italian drinks.
- Amaro – The Italian to English translation of “amaro” is bitter. Amaro is a bittersweet digestive which is made with different roots, fruits, spices, herbs, and alcohol. It is dependent on the brands recipe. Amaro can be compared to Italian Vermouth. Amaro is a fortified liquor, while vermouth is formed by fortifying wine. Both vermouth and amaro are a simultaneous mix of bitter and sweet.
- Vermouth – Vermouth is a popular ingredient in numerous cocktails. It is a fortified wine that is delicately flavoured with aromatic herbs. Martini is one of the most popular brands, which produces red, white, dry, rose, and bitter vermouth varieties. A vermouth or vermut has an alcohol content ranging between 15.5-22%. The term vermut is legally reserved for beverages that have a minimum alcohol content of 15.5%. Dry vermuts must have an alcohol content of at least 18%. Therefore, the term vermut tends not to feature on Martini bottle labels. This is because most Martini varieties have an average alcohol content of 14.4%.
- Amaretto – Amaretto is a sweet liqueur cordial of Italian origin, which is made from bitter almonds. The most famous of brand of them all is the Amaretto di Saronno, which claims that its original recipe dates as far back as the 1500s. The other best-selling amaretto is Disaronno Originale. In Italy, Amaretto is served either on the rocks or neat, and is normally paired with crunchy amaretti cookies. It is a stress-free drink that can be enjoyed as both and aperitif and digestif. Feel free to order it anytime without raising eyebrows!
- Limoncello – Limoncello is the most famous lemon drink stemming from Italy. It is a strong lemon flavoured liqueur which is normally produced in Southern Italy – Amalfi Coast, Sicily, and Calabria. In more recent times, limoncello is also cultivated in other Italian regions. Limoncello is made by steeping lemon peels, sugar, and alcohol. It is typically served chilled, or at room temperature, as an after-dinner drink, or as a refreshing drink during sweltering Italian summers. Its frequently served in a liqueur glass, or infrequently, as an Italian shot. Limoncello is wonderful with Italian pastries, cakes, and cookies. Limoncino has a similar flavour to limoncello, but is produced in the north, instead of the south. Fragolino is similar, but strawberry flavoured.
- Nocino – this dark-coloured liqueur, which is made from unripe green walnuts, is popular in Modena and all over Emilia Romagna. Nocino bottle labels at times have sparce information on them. This is because a few boutique companies, which do not specialise in making balsamic vinegar, also produce nocino. Top quality nocino is more often than not produced by wineries that also make balsamic vinegar.
- Sambuca – This anise-flavoured liqueur is produced in both black and white varieties. It is a typical after dinner drink, that is either splashed in a coffee, or served neat with “con la mosca” (with flies). Con la mosca are three toasted espresso beans, which when chewed highlight sambucas flavour. White sambuca is more popular and milder than black sambuca.
- Italian Grappa – Grappa is one of the most popular traditional Italian drinks. Grappa is made from grape skins and solids that are left-over from winemaking. It is a very fragrant spirit that is 75-120 proof. Compared to the liqueurs described above, it tastes more like hard liquor. So, if you love a strong drink, this is the liqueur for you. There are milder artisan versions available, from some excellent grappa producers that might be gentler for those that are averse to hard alcoholic drinks.
- Galliano – Galliano is a bright yellow liqueur that is a mix of dozens of spices and herbs. It was first made in 1896 and named after Italian war hero Giuseppe Galliano. This digestivo is normally used in cocktails and is a terrific flavouring for different Italian dessert recipes.
In Italian, “bere” is drink and “mangia” is eat. So, Bere! Mangia!
We Love Italian Drinks
Here at Mountain Wines, we love Italian drinks, especially those from alpine Italy. We have searched far and wide to find only the very best, so all you have to do is enjoy!
Our suppliers are Australia’s best, hands on importers who specialise in high quality Italian drinks of place. So join us for some delicious drinks from Italy!