Ahead of our recent wedding in Italy, I penned this blog post because I wanted to write about Italian potables other than wine in the expectation that after a week of chianti, our wedding guests would be ready for something different. As it turned out, many became worryingly wine-dependent over the course of their stay in Italy, but happily that did not discourage them from trying other potent beverages….
Unsurprisingly, for a place so full of good things to eat and drink, Italy is also famous for several distilled spirits and liquors. Perhaps the best-known, and most feared, is grappa — a burning, cough-inducing, firewater made from the macerated skins leftover from wine-making. Similar to the French eau-de-vie, grappa is reputed to settle the stomach and cure what ails you, assuming you can remember what was wrong after drinking it.
Sambuca is another liver-busting spirit you’ll be familiar with. Made from anise seeds (aniseed) and typically drunk over ice with 3 toasted coffee beans, it can be very enjoyable after a large meal — it’s strong flavor and sticky sweetness cutting through the fullness you’re experiencing. It’s also sometimes, unadvisedly, drunk (in the UK) as a shot at the end of a boozy night, and is never, ever a good idea.
There are, however, other strong waters that, when mixed together, while still likely to make you feel a mite tipsy, can be enjoyed without the physical symptoms caused by grappa or sambuca. The most famous of these cocktails is the Negroni. Invented in Florence in the 1920s, it was named for Count Camillo Negroni (1829-1913), who asked the bartender in his local to add gin to his favorite drink, the Americano. Negronis are made from equal measures of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari served over ice and with a twist of orange, and most frequently, consumed as an aperitif. In the US, negronis are often served with a splash or more of soda water. You can also buy ready made negronis, Negroni 1919, in the same way you can buy alco-pops, but we suspect that’s more for the teenagers in the park than mature adults like ourselves. What? eh? oh…
Anyway, why not try a negroni at a Florentine cafe before dinner? Apparently, they are the perfect thing to relax with of a warm summer’s evening, and work wonders in whetting the appetite.
And, just to round out this boozy post, an Americano is simply equal measures of sweet vermouth and campari, again sometimes diluted with a splash of club soda and served over ice. The drink was originally known as the “Milan-Torino” because of its ingredients – Campari from Milan, and Cinzano, the vermouth, from Turin – but in the early 1900s, the Italians noticed a surge in Americans enjoying it and renamed it for them. It seems only right then, that our wedding guests from the left side of the Atlantic do their bit for international traditions and order themselves an Americano, or two, just for kicks.