These Classic Italian Cocktails Will Elevate Happy Hour

Some classic Italian cocktails are what you need for an amazing Happy Hour and these recipes will be delicious additions that you and your friends will love!

classic italian cocktails - aperitivo hour!

Ready for Aperitivo Hour!

I have written previously about the drinking culture in Italy, and while that focused on the cultural acceptance and history of drinking in Italy, I wanted to focus on one particular aspect and that is the cocktails that are popular for Italians and visitors alike. The Italian cocktails popular during the time of day known as aperitivo have an endless number of varieties, so I’ve narrowed the focus of this post to include the most popular, and coincidently, my favorites.

Classic Italian Cocktails Are Needed For Aperitivo

This amazing social experience is typically before dinner with the intention of opening up your palate and getting you ready for dinner. We have enjoyed an aperitivo as early as 5:00 p.m. and as late as 7:00 p.m. The timing depends on your hunger and dinner reservations. Typically, you would order one drink, like wine or a cocktail, and the price will include some level of snacks, from something as elaborate as breads, cheeses, fried foods and potato chips to something as basic as peanuts. At one place that we will never go back to, there was no food offered, but this was certainly the exception. The single drink is the expected way to go and the one time we ordered a second round (because we didn’t have dinner plans) it felt wrong.

Classic Italian Cocktails - Elegant Prosecco

Elegant Prosecco

Prosecco Alone Are Classic Italian Cocktails

Prosecco refers to a geographical area that includes nine provinces spread across two regions, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia in the northeast of Italy. It includes the little town of Prosecco, from which the region got its name. This is from where Prosecco originated and the only area by law where Prosecco can be made. The Prosecco region can produce up to 600 million bottles a year, which makes it the most popular sparkling wine in the world. That’s about double what they produce in Champagne. The highest quality Prosecco is made about 40 miles from Venice, located between the cities of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano.

I’ve written about the difference between Prosecco and sparkling wine, and I highly recommend reading that post. The quality available at such a low price, I believe, is why this wine continues to grow in popularity around the world. It is ubiquitous here in Italy and that continues to make me smile because I don’t need to save it for the holidays or a special occasion. Your random Aperitivo is a good enough reason to enjoy this delicious sparkling wine.

Aperol Spritz Recipe

There are a variety of Italian cocktail recipes that call themselves a Spritz, like the Campari Spritz, Select Spritz and even a Limoncello Spritz, but my focus for this article is the well known and very popular Aperol Spritz.

Classic Italian Cocktails - Select Spritz

Select Spritz

The history of the Aperol Spritz is spread across northeast Italy, specifically around Padua and Venice. The brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri invented a new liqueur that was inspired by their drinking of Aperitifs during holidays in France. This Spritz Veneziano or Aperol Spritz might not seem like Italian names, and you would be right. Aperol is derived from the French word Aperitif and the Spritz refers to the German word: Spritzen and comes from the Austrian soldier’s habit of diluting the stronger Aperol with water and weaker sparkling wine.

The recipe for a Spritz is simple enough. Choose your favorite amaro (i.a. Aperol, Campari, Select, etc.) and mix 2 oz. of the amaro, 3 oz. of Prosecco, 1 oz. of soda water and add an orange slice as a garnish over ice.

Classic Italian Negroni Recipe

The origins of the Negroni are a little murky, but one thing everyone agrees on is that the drink was born in Florence (Firenze) in the early 20th century, pre-WWII.

Classic Italian Cocktails - Negroni with Bombay Sapphire Gin

Negroni with Bombay Sapphire Gin

The customer of the Florentine bar was Count Camillo Negroni, who was looking for a drink that was a little stiffer than an Americano. This history is challenged by other members of the Negroni family who claimed that the drink was invented by another Count de Negroni in the 19th century. 

Irrespective of who invented it, this cocktail is indeed strong and as with a Martini, another Gin drink, you don’t want to have too many of these because they will definitely sneak up on you. To quote Orson Wells:

The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.

And to add another quote, this one from Anthony Bourdain:

The drink will “hit you like a freight train after four or five.”

The recipe for a Negroni cocktail is not as flexible with its ingredients as a Spritz. You will use 3 oz. of Campari, an equal amount of Gin and another equal amount of Red Vermouth (a.k.a. Sweet Vermouth). You will also add an orange slice as a garnish and it is served over ice.

Classic Americano Recipe

If a Negroni is a little too strong for you, or you don’t enjoy Gin, you should definitely give an Americano Cocktail a try. Be careful, however, because I ordered a Campari Americano in a restaurant in the US that apparently doesn’t serve many of them, and I got some weird mix of Campari and hot coffee.

The cocktail originates in Milan in the 19th century. It was first served at Gaspare Campari’s bar, so as you might imagine, like the Negroni, there is no substitute for the Campari. The name is believed to be derived from its popularity with the American tourists that fled Prohibition and came to Europe in search of good drinks.

Classic Italian Cocktails - Negroni Sbagliato

Negroni Sbagliato

The Americano ingredients are like the Negroni, but substituting club soda for the Gin, and adding a lemon wedge, instead of an orange slice. The recipe for the Americano consists of 3 oz. of Campari, an equal amount of club soda and another equal amount of Red Vermouth (a.k.a. Sweet Vermouth). You will also add a lemon slice as a garnish and serve it over ice.

As I look around the internet, I see that there is a new liqueur called Bruto Americano. This is described as “America’s answer to Campari”, however, there was never a question asked that required this answer, so apart from acknowledging its existence, I will go no further with this interloper.

Other Classic Italian Cocktails To Try

Here are some cocktails that you can try out once you’ve gone through the classics I’ve detailed above:

  • Campari and Soda – Using chilled Campari and soda water, add 3 parts of soda water over 1 part Campari, without glass.
  • Negroni Sbagliato – A little lighter than the Negroni, but a little stronger than an Americano, this version of a Negroni substitutes sparkling wine (Prosecco) for the Gin. In other words, equal parts Prosecco, Sweet Vermouth and Campari served over ice with a slice or Orange.
  • Milano-Torino – This cocktail, a.k.a. MiTo, is 4 oz. of Campari and 4 oz. of Sweet Vermouth, served over ice and a slice of orange.
  • Bellini – Our favorite breakfast cocktail, the Bellini was invented in Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy around the time of WWII, and is two parts Prosecco with one part fresh white peach juice.

More About Italian Drinking Culture

If you enjoyed this post classic Italian cocktails and are interested in learning more about cocktails, wine and beer culture in Italy, check out some of these other related posts:

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