Italia is a gourmet’s paradise, known far and wide for its pasta, meat, and wine. Each region of Italy has its own specialty, from balsamic vinegar of Modena to Parma ham, and the country takes its authentic food certifications very seriously. But what about cocktails?
The first thing you have to know is that the aperitivo is essentially a cultural institution in Italy. Intended to whet the appetite prior to dinner, this after-work ritual is like America’s happy hour, but with a much greater sense of tradition and history. (There is also the digestivo, which is consumed after the main meal.) And just as the various regions of Italy take pride in their local cuisine, so too do they puff out their chests for their local liqueurs.
The good news for those who love to make easy cocktails at home is that Italian cocktails tend to be extremely simple, three-ingredient recipes. Here’s a crash course in 10 classic cocktail recipes and liqueurs from 10 different regions of Italy.
Tuscany - Negroni
Tuscany is beloved for its Chianti wine, but it has more than one claim to fame when it comes to drinking. The flagship cocktail of Florence—and, really, Italy as a whole—is the Negroni. Its signature red hue comes from Campari, a liqueur invented in the Piedmont region in 1860. The Negroni cocktail, created in Florence in 1920, also contains sweet vermouth and gin, and is garnished with an orange twist.
Lazio - Il Cardinale
There are various versions of the famed Negroni cocktail all throughout the country, one being Il Cardinale, which uses dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth. This version of the cocktail was invented by Giovanni Raimondo, a bartender at the Hotel Excelsior in Rome, and was named after a German Cardinal who frequented the spot. If you love stories like these, check out more surprising facts about your favorite Italian foods.
Veneto - Aperol Spritz
Historically, bartenders have fared very well in the seaport city of Venice, which has played host to a parade of novelists and celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, Joe di Maggio, and Truman Capote. But it wasn’t just the clientele that made the Veneto region famous for its bars; some of Italy’s most notable cocktails were invented there. Next to the Negroni, the Aperol Spritz is an Italian cocktail that is synonymous with aperitivo. Invented in 1919, Aperol is a red-orange liqueur that is the basis for the spritz cocktail that came about in the 1950s. It also contains prosecco and a splash of soda water. The best part? Spritzers are super easy cocktails to make at home!
Lombardy - Americano
Amusingly, one of Italy’s favorite cocktails is actually a nod to American tourists who, not finding the bitterness of the traditional Milano-Torino cocktail to their liking, added a splash of soda water to make it more palatable. Made with Campari and sweet vermouth, the Americano cocktail is a great place to start for those not ready to take on the more formidable, gin-based Negroni.
Sicily - Averna Limonata
When it comes to alcohol, the Sicilian amaro Averna is the pride of the enchanting Italian island. First crafted by the Benedictine monks of Abbazia di Santo Spirito, the bittersweet drink recipe was given to Salvatore Averna in 1868, and has been part of the authentic Sicilian experience ever since. This after-dinner amaro possesses notes of licorice, orange, juniper berries, and herbs like rosemary and sage. It is typically served straight, but can easily be transformed into a cocktail like the Averna Limonata, which is a mixed drink with lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water.
South Tyrol - Hugo
If you’re not using elderflower syrup in your cocktails, it’s time to start. The sweet, slightly floral ingredient is the star of the Hugo cocktail that was invented in northern Italy in 2005 by mixologist Roland Gruber. It is a light and refreshing combination of prosecco, elderflower syrup, and sparkling water garnished with mint leaves, lemon or lime. This alpine spritz is also enjoyed across the border in Austria, but let it be known it was first made at an Italian bar!
Emilia-Romagna - Lambrusco Spritz
Take your eye off the local Bolognese sauce for a moment and focus your attention on Lambrasco, the sparkling red wine of the Emilia-Romagna region. Turn this fruity, slightly bitter wine into a refreshing summer spritzer by combining it with an Italian amaro (The New York Times suggests one with a citrus flavor profile), grapefruit juice, and sparkling water. Garnish with olives and a fresh slice of grapefruit.
Piedmont - Barolo Chinato
In addition to being the birthplace of Campari, Piedmont is renowned for its wine varietals. While sipping a glass of Barolo wine from the region is thoroughly enjoyable on its own, Piedmont also uses this dry red as the base for a fortified wine aperitif called Barolo Chinato. Infused with cinchona bark, spices, sugar, herbs, and botanicals like orange peel or juniper berries, this bitter alcoholic beverage can be drunk on its own or included in mixed drinks with dark liquors like whiskey and rum.
Abruzzo - Centerbe
Literally translated as “one hundred herbs,” Centerbe is a green liqueur with an extremely complex recipe. This beverage was treated as a medicinal drink for centuries, but today is mainly enjoyed as a digestivo. Centerbe can also be added to hot chocolate or coffee.
Campania - Limoncello
Of course, a list of Italian cocktails would not be complete without the mention of the tart digestivo Limoncello. Several regions of Italy like to lay claim to the invention of this lemon liqueur, but it is widely thought to be the product of the Campania region. Capri and the Amalfi Coast are famous for their lemons and their beaches — the perfect combination for a relaxing Italian summer. Like most Italian liqueurs, Limoncello is usually served straight, but can easily be made into a delightful spritzer or an elegant martini.
Next, get a taste of Mexico with these 7 Incredible Margarita Recipes.