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The Aperitivo Explained

What is the aperitivo in Italy?

It is a way people stay connect- ed, and can be a dinner option for those who just want a light evening meal or who are on a strict budget. This fun and tasty trend began in Milano in the 80’s when some bars had the idea to serve snacks with their drinks during Happy Hour. Naturally, people would opt to enjoy their cocktails at establishments that provided free nibbles. Other bars began to follow suit, some even offering dishes like hot pasta, thus giving people the opportunity to eat their primo and then go out for dinner afterward. The Milanese trend trickled south to many cities including Florence. Just about every lounge bar, coffee bar, and enoteca in the city serves some form of aperitivo buffet with their drinks. Good music is also crucial, since it sets the mood for relaxation and animated conversation.

Beyond the world of wine lies a wide assortment of cocktails to discover in Italy, including the Ne- groni, the Spritz, and the Americano. Intended to whet the palate, these three cocktails usually con- tain Campari, but are also offered with some minor variations. These iconic Italian cocktails feature dis- tinctive ingredients like Aperol, Campari and Vermouth and con- tain flavors that stimulate the ap- petite— thus, perfect for the Ital- ian aperitivo. The social activity known as aperitivo takes place in a lively atmosphere, at a bar or par- ty, accompanied by light-tasting cocktails and pre-dinner snacks. It happens almost every night of the week, and in some locales, the finger foods are enough for a full meal, at the price of an €9 or €12 cocktail, from 6pm to 10pm.

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 Cam- pari 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 Ne- groni was at Florence’s Caffè Casoni (now Caffè Giacosa), he or- dered 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 differ- ent 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 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 original gin, Campari and Vermouth, plus Champagne or Prosecco, sometimes garnished with an orange twist.

Another typical choice for aperi- tivo is the Spritz cocktail, which 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 quintessential Italian lifestyle. Enjoy your aperitivo.