Italian Drinks Guide – What To Drink In Italy
Italian Drinks Guide
We’ve been traveling to Italy for almost 20 years, meaning we consider ourselves experts on food and drink in Italy. Having traveled from north to south, we’ve drank some of the most famous drinks in Italy. It’s all in the name of research for our Italian Drinks Guide. We hope to share some of the most popular drinks and the ones that are a little lesser known.
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What To Drink In Italy
Italian beverages fall into two main categories. There are alcoholic Italian drinks, which is the focus of this post. Of course, there are a good number of non-alcoholic Italian drinks, most notable Italian coffee, which we cover in another post (Check out our guide to Italian coffee).
The thing is there are so many options on most Italian drinks menus that we need to separate the options for what to drink in Italy into multiple posts.
In this post, we share recommendations focused on Italian alcoholic drinks. There will be some overlap in the discussion below. We share tips on what to drink before a meal and what to drink after a meal.
We also share a list of the most common brands of both Italian liquors and liqueurs, and that the difference is between the two. Sometimes a particular drink might fall into more than one of these categories.Learn more about Italian coffee in our Italian Coffee Menu Guide
What Do Italians Drink?
Great question, and the answer is long and extensive. There are a few ways to look at this. First, I will share some typical Italian drink names and brands. Then, I will share how to drink all those Italian brands.
Some of these Italian liquors are made to drink before a meal, some are after a meal, and some are all-day beverages.
Some are served in Italian cocktails and some are the perfect options to drink during an aperitivo, a uniquely Italian drink experience.
Drinks in Italy include wine, beer, vermouth, dessert wines, liquors, and liqueurs. Some of them are consumed as aperitifs and some as digestives. Although many of them can be drank both before and after a meal, you might get a raised eyebrow if you order it at the wrong time.
Italian Drinks Pro Tip
There are two fun words to know in Italian. These are not imperative to learn to travel in Italy. They are just fun to say. Drink in Italian is bere. Eat in Italian is mangia. So, Bere! Mangia! Enjoy!
Italian Liqueurs And Italian Liquor Brands
Included in this Italian beverages list, I am including popular liqueurs that are drunk in Italy as well as brands that are popular Italian drinks. For our purposes here, liqueurs are categories of beverages that can be sold under various brands or by various producers.
I am also including popular brand name liquors from Italy as well. In some cases, you would request the type of liqueur and other cases you would order by brand name. Using an example within the beer world, it’s like the difference between a stout and a Guinness.
Some of the beverages below can be considered an Italian digestif or an Italian after-dinner liquor. Sometimes they are drunk before a meal to open up the appetite for a big meal, but more commonly they are enjoyed after a meal.
Having a digestive is the Italian tradition of enjoying a drink after a meal to aid in digestion. This is important in Italy because a traditional Italian dinner is big and filling.
List Of Italian Liqueurs To Drink When Traveling In Italy
Amaro can be translated to bitter in English. It’s made with different herbs and roots depending on the brand and the recipe they use. It can be compared to vermouth, which is drank in Italy and is very popular in Spain.
Whereas vermouth is made by fortifying wine, amaro is a fortified liquor. Both amaro and vermouth are a simultaneous mix of sweet and bitter.
As mentioned above, vermouth is a fortified wine that is flavored with herbs. In Italy it is a popular ingredient in many cocktails. Although it is common to drink vermouth on its own, over ice, in Spain, this is not as common in Italy.
Martini is probably one of the most popular brands, which produces white, red, rose, dry, and bitter vermouth varieties.
Amaretto is a sweet Italian liqueur made from bitter almonds. The most famous brand is Amaretto di Saronno, which claims its original recipe dates to the 1500s. The brand is currently marketed as Disaronno Originale.
Although commonly found in an “Amaretto Sour” in the US, it’s more likely to be served neat or on the rocks when drinking in Italy. It can be drank as both an aperitif and as a digestif, which means you can order it anytime without raising eyebrows.
This is probably the most famous Italian lemon drink. Limoncello is a strong lemon liqueur normally produced in Southern Italy, although it is common to find around the country.
It’s normally served in a liqueur glass, or as an Italian shot, although it is not common to drink it down like a shot. Sip it and enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of an alcoholic lemon drink on a warm summer day in Italy?
It sounds simple enough to produce, with a mixture of lemon, alcohol water, and sugar, but when Eric tried to make some at home years ago, it proved more difficult than he planned.
Still, it’s one of our favorite things to drink in Italy because it is sweet and lemony, but not sour like a fresh lemon. It’s typically served chilled as a digestif, or Italian after dinner drink. If you see limoncino on a menu, it’s a similar lemon-flavored Italian liqueur, but produced in Liguria in the north, instead of the south. Also look for fragolino, which is similar, but strawberry-flavored.
Nocino is a dark-colored liqueur popular in Modena and throughout Emilia Romagna. It is made from raw walnuts. It is a sweet liqueur, but with a touch of savoriness to it.
Although there are some companies that produce Nocino, it’s commonly produced by wineries or producers of balsamic vinegar and sometimes arrives at a dinner table without a label.
Sambuca is an anise-flavored liqueur, that is produced in both white and black varieties. White sambuca is a little more popular, and more mild than black sambuca. It is a typical digestif served after a meal, or in coffee.
Grappa is probably one of the most popular and well known traditional Italian drinks. It tastes a lot more like hard liquor than the other liqueurs mentioned above. Although one of the most traditional drinks of Italy, I will admit, we are not the biggest fans of grappa. We’ve had some artisan versions from some of the best grappa producers and just have yet to find one we like.
Learn How they make grappa:
Italian Liquor Brands
Before diving into the various types of common cocktail drinks from Italy, it helps to be familiar with some of the most common Italian alcohol brands. Many of these can be found worldwide, but some are a little less common internationally. These brands produce a combination of drinks that could be considered Italian spirits or Italian liquors.
Campari is a bitter Italian liquor that’s been around since the 1800s. Originating in Milan, Campari liquor is a red Italian liquor that is occasionally drunk on its own, but is more often mixed in a cocktail or a spritz. The liquor is infused with bitter herbs and fruit. Campari is most commonly used in Italian cocktails like the Negroni or Americano.
If you see a bright orange drink in Italy, chance are it is made with Aperol. It is also an herbal liquor, but in comparison to Campari, it is less bitter. Aperol is one of the most popular Italian aperitifs. It is made of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona among other ingredients.
Don’t be surprised if these are ingredients you don’t know, neither did I. Both gentian and cinchona are flowering plants, and are just some of the “secret ingredients” in Aperol.
We first learned of Fernet in Argentina, where it is quite popular. It is a type of amaro, which I include below. It’s flavored with over 40 herbs and spices.
Under the label Fernet-Branca, this is a bitter digestiv commonly used in coffee drinks in Italy. It also may be served over ice or neat. In Argentina, it is mixed with Coca-Cola where the sweetness offsets the bitterness of the liquor.
I can spot a Frangelico bottle from a mile away, more because I remember the bottle in our home bar when I was growing up. Frangelico is a hazelnut liqueur from the Piedmont region in Northern Italy.
Piedmont is the hazelnut growing region of the country. Generally, Frangelico is enjoyed over ice, neat, or in coffee drinks. It’s also occasionally used in cocktail recipes.
Another liquor bottle that reminds me of home bars in New Jersey in the 1980s. Although bright yellow in color, Galliano is a sweet liqueur flavored with anise. Dating from the 1890s, the main flavoring is vanilla, which offsets the flavor of the anise. It is drank as a digestif.
What Is Aperitivo In Italy
An aperitivo is a drink to whet or open the appetite. Because it’s generally consumed before a meal, it’s often dry or bitter. Aperitivo is an Italian food and drink institution.
The Italian aperitivo is like an Italian happy hour. It normally runs from about 7 pm until around 9 pm. Many Italians will enjoy a glass of wine or a beer, but it is also pretty common to drink an Italian mixed drink.
An aperitivo drink often comes with a selection of Italian appetizers. Depending on where you are in Italy, this can take several forms. In cities like Milan and Turin, there are buffets set up where you can go to town.
During aperitivo, the prices are a little more expensive than outside of the Italian “happy hour,” but normally only by €1-2. The drinks are generally a flat rate, but in some places cocktails might be a little more than beer or wine.
In other cities, the bar or cafe will provide a small plate of snacks. In this case, the drink prices are often the same prices as they are during the other parts of the day.
The Italian Spritz
So, what is a spritz? It’s the name used for Italian cocktails with Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine. There are a bunch of different kinds of Italian drinks with Prosecco, some more well-known than others.
Probably the most famous Italian drinks right now, in Italy and across the country has to be the Aperol Spritz. But, there are other spritz varieties and Aperol drinks that can be found in Italy.
Probably one of the most popular Italian drinks now has to be the Aperol Spritz. We often get asked what is that Italian orange drink people keep seeing us with in so many of our photos (so many photos). Aperol is an Italian orange liqueur.
Famous Italian Cocktails
A Negroni is traditionally made with equal parts gin, red vermouth, and a bitter liquor, generally Campari. It’s an Italian bitter drink that because of its red color looks a little more accessible than it really is.
An Americano is another Campari-based cocktail. There is no gin in an Americano. Instead, this Italian drink includes Campari and red vermouth, with a splash of sparkling water or soda water.
A Negroni Sbagliato is almost like a blend of a Negroni and a Spritz. It’s not one of the most well-known of Italian famous drinks but is a great alternative to a Negroni. It’s a mix of Campari, red vermouth, and Prosecco instead of gin.
Probably most associated with James Bond, the Marini has an Italian start. Martini & Rossi is an Italian liquor brand from Turin. A martini in Italy is more commonly a sparkling wine mixed with vermouth, not vodka or gin.
Italian Craft Beer
Other than the Austrian-influenced regions of the Veneto and Lombardy in the north of Italy, there has never been a strong beer drinking tradition in Italy. Italians consume some of the lowest amounts of beer per capita within Europe.
Now, there are about 1,000 breweries of varying sizes producing beer all across the country. There is an Italian brewer’s organization called UnionBirrai. They help to define craft beer by saying it must be unfiltered, unpasteurized, and come from a brewery that produces less than 170,000 barrels of beer a year. This helps to define craft beer in Italy to ensure it only includes small producers.
Like many things in Italy, the types of craft beer you find might depend on the region where you are traveling. Some producers are focused on ancient techniques or are applying the German Beer Laws from the 1500s. Others are experimenting with newer brewing techniques or are being super creative with the use of local ingredients.
Types of Craft Beer In Italy
Sure, you are definitely likely to see a lot of IPAs, APAs, or New England IPAs. But, we’ve seen a lot more creativity than one would expect from such a traditional country.
The most unique Italian craft beer we’ve seen is the Italian Grape Ale or IGA. Italian Grape Ale is beer made with grape must, a byproduct of wine production. This can include natural grapes, cooked must (known as sapa), fermented must, or even grape peel.
The grape brings color and aroma to the resulting Italian Grape Ale but also a different type of natural yeast. IGAs can be made with both red and white grape must.
It’s also common to see blonde beers, Golden Ale, White Beers, Wheat Beers, and more. Music to my ears are the number of stouts and sour beers that are produced in Italy. Sour beers are so popular there is even an annual Sour Beer festival in Reggio Emilia, in Emilia Romagna.Check out our Guide to Italian Craft Beer
Italian Drinks FAQs
When it comes to drinking, Italy is synonymous with wine, cafe (coffee), and the Aperol spritz. Often forgotten by outsiders, but incredibly popular with Italians, is Campari. A bright red mixture of herbs, fruit, and alcohol. Bitter in taste, Campari is served with a variety of mixers including orange juice and soda water.
One of the most popular liquors enjoyed by Italians is Fernet Branca. A dark, slightly thick liquor, Fernet Branca is a blend of dozens of herbs. The result is a bitter taste that takes some getting used to. Because of the herbs used to make it, Fernet Branca is considered a digestive drink, served after a meal.
This depends on what you are buying but overall alcohol in Italy is not as expensive as other European countries like Ireland and the UK. Wine, the quality side, can be very cheap to purchase in Italy. In some places you can buy one liter (¼ gallon) for as low 2-3 Euros ($2.25). Beer is surprisingly expensive throughout Italy. A pint of beer in a bar or cafe can run as much as 5-6 Euros ($6). Spirits, depending on the type, vary in price and are mostly in line with pricing around Europe.
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Italian Drinks Guide – What To Drink In Italy
I hope you found this guide to Italian beverages helpful. As traditional as Italy is, there are often new drinks that become popular and we will update this post when we find them. Just a few years ago I would never think to tell food and drink travelers to look for Italian craft beer!
If you end up shopping for wine in Italy, check out this post on how to travel with wine with our reviews of the best wine luggage options.