Now that we are coming into the summer season, the days are getting longer and al fresco aperitivos are back. After a hot day at work or on the weekend, Italians love to stop by their local bar for an aperitivo (cocktail) and light snacks; usually between 7 and 9 pm. In the North, especially in Milan, the “apericena” is also big. This is essentially having a cocktail or two with a light buffet that serves as a light dinner. I suppose you could equate it a bit to America’s version of Happy Hour except that aperitivo time is less about the drinking and more about relaxing and socializing with friends and “warming up” your stomach for dinner. It is a wonderful Italian custom that I adore.
So in honor of outdoor aperitvo season, I wanted to share with you my personal top ten Italian cocktails. The trend of cocktails really took off in Italy during the 1950s during Italy’s golden era…the economy was booming, and everything Italian was looked upon as very glamorous. Italy, with its great sense of design and fashion, paired perfectly with the cocktail movement…beautifully constructed drinks in distinctively shaped glasses. Italians embraced the latest cocktail trends from the States and they also embarked on creating new cocktail recipes.
So here are my top ten Italian cocktails:
The Spritz was created during the period of Hapsburg domination in Veneto during the 1800s. The soldiers, as well as various merchants, and workers of the Hapsburg empire in Veneto quickly got used to the local habit of drinking in Osterias. However, the wines that were served proved too strong compared to the beers that they were used to. A request was made at one of the osterias to add or spritz a little water to the wine (the verb “spritzen” in German) to lighten it up a bit. The original spritz was either sparking red or white wine diluted with a little water. Over the years the Spritz has been transformed and you can now order an infinite number of varieties of Spritz. The two I like the most are the most basic or traditional with Aperol or Campari (if you order one in the North), Prosecco, and seltzer water. The typical proportions are a third of each.
The Hugo Spritz
The other spritz that I love, even more than the traditional Spritz, is the Hugo Spritz. It is so refreshing and great for the summer. This version of the “Spritz” was created in 2005 by an Italian bartender by the name of Roland Gruber at the San Zeno Wine and Cocktail Bar in Naturno (located South Tyrol in Northern Italy). He first made it with Prosecco, lemon syrup, seltzer water and fresh mint leaves. He later tweaked the recipe by replacing the lemon syrup with Elderflower syrup or in Italian sambucco, not to be mistaken with Greek version of sambuca, the strong licorice flavored liquor. Elderflower or sambucco syrup is made from the flowers of the Elderberry; an indigenous plant that thrives across the European Alps.
The Bellini cocktail was created by Giuseppe Cipriani, the owner of Harry’s Bar in Venice in 1948. It is 3/10 white peach nectar and 7/10 Prosecco and you build it directly in a champagne flute, pouring in the peach nectar first then topping it with prosecco. For me, this is only a summer drink since it is best to use fresh peach juice. It is simply divine.
The Rossini is essentially the same as a Bellini except you use fresh strawberry nectar instead of peach. The proportions you use to make the drink are exactly the same.
This is a refreshing Venetion lemon sorbet cocktail that can double as a digestif (after dinner drink) or palette cleanser between fish and meat courses. It is a slushy combination of lemon sorbet, vodka, and Prosecco. It is popular as an aperitif in the hot summer months. For a single serving, combine 1/3 cup lemon sorbet, 3 ounces of Prosecco, and 1 ounce of vodka. In a bowl or cocktail shaker, whisk together sorbet and a splash of Prosecco until well incorporated. While whisking or shaking, slowly pour in the vodka then the remaining Prosecco. Serve in a champagne flute.
This cocktail is made from 1 part sweet vermouth rosso (red), 1 part Campari, and 1 part gin. It is served over ice and garnished with a piece of orange peel. There are several stories about how the Negroni originate, but the most popular being that it was created at Caffe Casoni in Florence in 1919. The story goes that a local aristocrat and regular at the bar, Count Camillo Negroni, wanted to spice up his usual libation of Campari and Vermouth. So the barman, Forsco Scarselli, added one part London dry gin and changed the usual lemon garnish to a twist of orange and voila, the Negroni was born.
So, the Negroni Sbagliato is said to have been created in Milan in the 1960s and is a wonderful choice for summer as it is a lightened up version of the traditional Negroni. “Sbagliato” which means wrong in Italian refers to the fact that the gin in the original Negroni is swapped out for Spumante, making it a refreshing cocktail for summer.
This cocktail, which is 5/10 Vermouth Rosso and 5/10 Bitter Campari and topped with soda water, was first invented by Gaspare Campari at his bar Caffè Campari in the 1860s. It was originally called the “Milano-Torino” because of its ingredients (Vermouth being from Torino and Campari from Milan). There are a couple ideas as to why the name changed to Americano, but the most popular is that in the early 1900s, Italians noticed that Americans visiting Italy particularly enjoyed the cocktail hence as a compliment to them, the name was changed to “Americano”.
This is a recent addition to the Italian cocktail scene. If you love limoncello as an after dinner digestive, then you will love this limoncello based cocktail to start your evening. It couldn’t be any easier. Add 1 part limoncello, 3 parts Prosecco and 1 part soda water in a glass and gently stir. Add ice to make it even more refreshing and add a slice of lemon for the garnish.
The Amaretto Spritz, also known in other parts of the world as an Amaretto Sour is a favorite of mine as it has the almond flavor I love, but it is also refreshing with and light with the addition of fresh lemon juice. To make, add 2 parts Amaretto and 1 part fresh lemon juice and 1 to 2 teaspoons granulated sugar in a shaker or a glass and shake or stir until well incorporated. Pour over ice and garnish with a lemon slice.
So, if you are planning on visiting Italy, make sure you leave some time in the evening to relax and enjoy aperitivo time.
Cin, Cin, Cheers!