Italian cuisine is the height of gastronomy, and its culinary traditions are the most ubiquitous worldwide. There isn’t a country that doesn’t have a pizzeria or stock pasta and tomato sauce on their grocery store shelves.
Good drinks are as important as good food in Italy, and Italians are master mixologists, winemakers, and baristas.
Visitors to Italy will experience the full breadth of the Italian dining experience, which encompasses the finest meat, seafood, wine, coffee, bread, and cheese.
Italians have created a long list of incredible cocktails that have garnered as much popularity as their food.
Read on to check out the best Italian cocktails you can order on your next night out or create at home.
Originating in a Milan bar during the 1860s, the Americano uses Milan’s most famous liqueur: Campari.
Campari is named for its inventor, Gaspare Campari, who also invented the Americano.
The recipe of an Americano includes Campari, red vermouth, soda water, and lemon peel as a garnish.
Campari is a bitter, red liqueur that combines well with sweet additives, like fresh fruit juices or, in the case of the Americano, sweet vermouth.
The Americano garnered worldwide acclaim when it was featured in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series as the secret agent’s go-to cafe cocktail.
I like the Americano for its subtle sweetness and enjoy it with a melon and prosciutto antipasti dish.
As lure has it, the Negroni was a French general’s adaptation of an Americano.
General Pascual Negroni asked his Italian bartender for a stronger drink, so he swapped the soda water for gin.
The drink looked similar to the Americano, so the bartender garnished the drink with an orange slice instead of a lemon peel.
Thus, the classic Negroni emerged as an even more popular drink comprised of equal parts Campari, Vermouth, and Gin.
Now, you can find dozens of variations, each country with its own take. If I can’t find Campari, I’ll switch it out for Pimms to create a British version known as the Queen’s Negroni.
The Garibaldi is a simple cocktail made with Campari and orange juice.
It was named for Giuseppe Garibaldi, a beloved war hero who played a huge role in the birth of the Italian nation.
Campari is an Italian creation, so it’s a fitting ingredient to honor one of the fathers of modern Italy.
As mentioned before, Campari is a bitter liquor, so it’s best to combine it with sweet mixers. Thus the splash of orange juice is the perfect complement.
Since Campari isn’t overly alcoholic, the Garibaldi is a good afternoon or brunch drink.
The aromatic and herby taste of the Campari combines nicely with the bright, sweet, and tangy orange. I especially enjoy the fiery red color.
A newcomer to the cocktail scene, the Hugo cocktail hails from a Northern Italian region known as South Tyrol.
A mixologist created this cocktail in 2005 as a refreshing aperitif. It contains Prosecco, elderflower or lemon balm syrup, soda water, and mint, served over ice.
Prosecco is a dry, super carbonated sparkling wine that’s Italy’s answer to Champagne.
The subtle flavors of the Prosecco are neutralized even more by adding soda. I like the aromatic elderflower syrup with mint over the lemon balm syrup.
Aperol Spritz is a take on the historic Spritz Veneziano that originated in Venice in the early 1800s. Spritz is a German word meaning “spray.”
German soldiers and immigrants to the region weren’t accustomed to the strong taste of Italian wines, so they asked bartenders to add a spritz of soda water.
The result was the Spritz Veneziano, a three-ingredient cocktail of wine, soda, and Campari.
The Aperol Spritz uses Aperol instead of Campari and consists of Prosecco, Aperol, and soda water.
Aperol is also an Italian bitter with a vibrant orange hue that combines an equally mysterious recipe of aromatic ingredients like rhubarb, gentian, and cinchona.
I see Aperol Spritzes on menus at any bar or restaurant I’ve frequented in and out of Italy.
If you’ve ever had a boozy brunch, I’m sure you’ve heard of Bellinis.
Mimosas are to France as Bellinis are to Italy, but you can find both cocktails on any brunch menu in the U.S.
The Bellini is the simple yet stunning combination of Prosecco and peach nectar or puree.
Venetian bar owner Giuseppe Cipriani created the cocktail and named it for the famous Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini.
Italians often add cherry or raspberry juice to turn the Bellini a deeper pink. Regardless of the color, I’d add either one of these sumptuous summer fruits for extra tangy sweetness.
You could even drop whole raspberries in the cocktail, similar to dropping strawberries into Champagne.
I’ve discussed the diversity of Negronis according to each country’s respective bitters or native spirits.
The Negroni Sbagliato is a regional variation from Italian bar owner Mirko Stocchettoin.
“Sbagliato” means mistaken, so this Negroni variety was a happy accident. Stocchettoin botched his Negroni by adding Prosecco instead of gin to the Campari and vermouth foundation.
The result was a mistake that became a staple for drinkers wanting a less bitter Negroni.
The gin and Campari are both strong, aromatic tastes, so swapping gin with Prosecco makes for a sweeter, lighter cocktail. I also like it because it adds carbonation.
Named for the famous Italian composer who created Madam Butterfly, Puccini is another Prosecco-based cocktail and a wonderful alternative to the Bellini.
It consists of Prosecco, mandarin, tangerine, or clementine juice, and mandarine Napoléon liqueur.
I’ve seen recipes that use mandarin juice and Prosecco, but if you want the citrus flavor to shine through, the liqueur takes the drink to the next level.
More than an alternative to the Bellini, the Puccini is the Italian version of a Mimosa. Mandarins are sweeter than normal oranges, making the Puccini slightly sweeter than a Mimosa.
I’d drink a Puccini with an Italian brunch of vegetable frittata and peach focaccia.
Meaning “Blue Angel” in Italian, Angelo Azzurro is the ultimate club cocktail. It’s highly alcoholic, served in a classy martini glass, and has an exotic blue color.
Angelo Azzurro originated in Italy during the 90s and consists of Gin, Triple Sec or Cointreau, Blue Curaçao, and lemon peel as garnish.
Blue Curacao is an orange liqueur from Latin America with a bright blue color, hence the source of Angelo Azzurro’s hue and name.
It’s sweet and very alcoholic, so I’d only have one of these to avoid a nasty hangover. The sugar and alcohol will undoubtedly fuel a night of dancing!
On par with the Bellini as a brunch cocktail staple, the Rossini is a Prosecco-based cocktail named for the composer Giachino Rossini.
The delightful flavors in this simple cocktail are music to my tastebuds! The Rossini combines Prosecco with strawberry puree.
If you’ve ever dropped a strawberry into Champagne to bring out its fruity tones, the Rossini takes the concept a step further.
By pureeing the strawberries, you create a delightful texture that foams up with the addition of Prosecco.
I love the Rossini as a less sweet and more elegant alternative to the Puccini and the Bellini.
Gin & IT
Gin & IT is a sweeter take on the classic Martini. “IT” is short for Italian, but the Gin & IT cocktail was initially called the Sweet Martini.
It originated in Italy, becoming a popular drink in New York during the late 1800s.
The term Gin & IT came about during the 1920s Prohibition Era when the recipe migrated back across the pond to Britain. The name stuck, although I think “sweet martini” is a better description.
The Gin & IT consists of gin, sweet vermouth, and Angostura orange bitters.
Vermouth and gin have herby flavors that, like the Negroni, combine well with citrus.
I serve this simple yet flavorful cocktail in an old-fashioned glass instead of a martini glass, with a slice of orange for garnish.
Amaretto is one of my favorite Italian liqueurs, so the Godfather has a special place in my heart.
Lure has it that this cocktail got its name because it was actor Marlon Brando’s favorite cocktail.
The Godfather is a mixture of Amaretto and Scotch. The smokier the variety of Scotch, the better.
Amaretto is the sweetest bitter you’ll find and tastes the way almond extract smells.
Combining Amaretto’s sweet, nutty flavor with smokey Scotch is an award-winning flavor profile, in my opinion.
Of course, if you’re not a fan of Scotch, you can always make a Grandmother by combining Amaretto with vodka.
Named for the origin of its two ingredients, Milano-Torino is the original Campari drink.
Invented at the famous Caffe Camparino in Milan, Milano-Torino, or Mi-To for short, combines Campari and sweet vermouth.
Campari is from Milan, while sweet vermouth is from Torino. The Mi-To is the foundation for the Negroni and the Americano.
It uses equal parts of both ingredients poured over ice and garnished with an orange or lemon peel.
You get the bitter Campari flavor tampered by the sweetness of the classic Martini Rosso vermouth for a perfectly balanced Aperitif.
Originating in the Northern Italian region of Brescia, Pirlo is still the region’s most popular drink.
It’s a regional take on the spritz, combining a still white wine with Campari or bitters.
Brescia natives are adamant that the wine used in Pirlo be from the Brescia region. They also will combine the wine and Campari with soda water.
Modern versions combine sparkling white wine with Campari, although they specify that it cannot be Prosecco.
I like the modern twist on the Pirlo because it reduces the ingredients while upping the alcohol content.
I also enjoy this cocktail as an Aperitif as it goes well with cheese and crackers.
Lastly, we come to my favorite Italian beverage of all time! Limoncello is a deliciously sweet alcoholic lemon liqueur that comes from the beautiful Amalfi coast.
It’s made by combining lemon peel, sugar, and alcohol, then left to ferment for various months.
The result is a milky yellow liqueur that tastes like concentrated lemonade. It’s only second in popularity to Campari in Italy.
It’s perfect for sipping as an after-dinner treat, but you can use it as an ingredient in numerous cocktails. My favorite use of Limoncello is in a lemon drop martini.
You could combine it with Prosecco for a summery lunch or dinner cocktail.