Wine may be the drink of choice in Italy, and the Tuscan region in particular is known for its wine production. Yet, beyond the world of wine lies a wide assortment of cocktails to discover in Italy, including the Negroni, the Spritz, and the Americano. These iconic Italian cocktails feature distinctive ingredients like Aperol, Campari and Vermouth and contain flavors that stimulate the appetite—thus, perfect for the Italian aperitivo.
The social activity known as aperitivo takes place in a lively atmosphere, at a bar or party, accompanied by light-tasting cocktails and pre-dinner snacks. Aperitivo happens almost every night of the week and in some locales the finger foods are abundant enough to make a full meal, at the price of an 8 or 9 euro cocktail.
Negroni, Spritz, and Americano are the quintessential Italian apéritifs. Intended to whet the palate, these three cocktails usually contain Campari, but are also offered with some minor variations. The Americano is made with half Campari, half sweet Vermouth, and soda water, and is garnished with lemon. It was originally served in Gaspare Campari’s café in Milan and called the Milano-Torino cocktail in reference to the Campari from Milan and Vermouth from Turin. However, as the drink grew in popularity among American tourists, it became known as the Americano.
In 1919, when Count Camillo Negroni was at Florence’s Caffè Casoni (now Caffè Giacosa), he ordered his Americano a little bit stronger. The bartender decided to add gin instead of soda water, and an orange instead of a lemon, to distinguish this new and different drink. The cocktail was so well received that the Negroni family founded a Negroni Distillery in Treviso, Italy.
Currently there are three different variations of the Negroni cocktail. The first, invented in Milan, is called the Negroni sbagliato, the “wrong” Negroni, wherein Spumante Brut (dry sparkling white wine) is substituted for gin. The Negroski is a version made with vodka instead of gin. Lastly, the Sparkling Negroni contains the same main three parts—gin, Campari and Vermouth— plus Champagne or Prosecco, and is sometimes garnished with an orange twist.
The Spritz cocktail, another popular choice for aperitivo, is made with one ounce of Aperol, two ounces Prosecco, and seltzer. For those who prefer a more bitter flavor, Campari can be used instead of the sweeter, lighter Aperol.
Venturing away from standard American cocktails makes for a delicious change of pace, while experiencing the Italian aperitivo tradition takes you a step closer to adopting the Italian lifestyle. Cin cin!