With a beatiful rolling countryside packed with regional amari and local drinking traditions, along with a couple centuries of drinking under their national belts, Italians know a thing or two about cocktails. While they range from strong and stiff to light and effervescent, from bitter to juicy, Italian drinks have one thing in common (other than variants of red coloring): They’re all utterly delicious. While you could simply sip vermouth or limoncello and live happily ever after, these Italian mixed drinks make the best of the country’s regional ingredients, rich drinking history, and aperitivo hour.
Forget spaghetti, pizza and espresso; the Negroni is the best edible or drinkable thing Italians have ever given the world. Bitter and bracing, and brilliant in color, the potent Campari-forward lowball will immediately erase any other imported Italian delicacy from your mind (and make it pretty much impossible to eat any of them immediately after one sip anyway). Invented in 1919 by Count Camillo Negroni, the drink has noble origins. It also turned the typical light Italian Highball into a compact, stirred masterpiece. Which brings us too…
Before the Negroni ever stomped all over drinkers’ palates with its one-two punch of gin and Campari, the popular Italian liqueur was commonly consumed in this fizzy Highball. The root of the Negroni family tree, the drink lengthens the bitter Campari with soda and sweetens it with a touch of sweet vermouth. If you’re not in a rush for a boozy kick like old Count Negroni, the Americano is a lovely way to get your amaro fix in a light and bubbly package.
Another Negroni relative (are you picking up on the importance of the Negroni here?), this variant is named for the “mistaken” use of sparkling wine instead of gin in one fateful Negroni at Bar Basso in Milan. But one Italian bartender's mistake is another bartender’s treasure. The wine and sweet vermouth make the drink more lively while cutting the bitter ends of the Campari, making for an intoxicatingly dry, delicate sipper of a lowball.
Imagine yourself on the patio of a quiet cafe in the Italian countryside. The leaves rustle, the sun is creeping down, but there’s plenty of light left for a lazy aperitivo while warming yourself in the Mediterranean sun. There’s a drink in your hand, and it’s cold, sparkling, refreshing and just boozy enough to set your mind loose from the world. The drink you are imagining is an Aperol Spritz (Campari’s lighter more delicate cousin, combined with prosecco and soda). It is very real and you can have one right now, wherever you are.
While it’s the only drink on this list that’s not related to a Negroni, the Bellini shares a common ease with the other cocktails, which are all short on ingredients but big on flavor. Invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice in the mid-20th century, the cocktail is inspired by the blush hue from one of Giovanni Bellini’s paintings. Peach purée and prosecco not only mix well on the color palette but also on the drinker’s palate, creating a fizzy, fruity cocktail. It’s pretty much the only drink that can go toe to toe with the Parisian Mimosa on the brunch table, which is proof enough of how alluring and satisfying this pink cocktail is.