No one understands the intersection of drinking and culture quite like the Italians do. There’s a drink for every moment. Go ahead: Drink Italian. It’s a way of life.
Italian liqueurs and spirits are a lot like the different regions and cities in the country; each has its own unique history and profile. That’s why it should come as no surprise that the place that produces each liquid tells you a lot about it. Discover four regions that created your favorite authentic Italian originals and what makes each place—and its liqueur—truly unique.
Legend has it that friars living in the hills of Piedmont more than 300 years ago collected hazelnuts and other local ingredients to create a liqueur that eventually became Frangelico. The region also produces some of the world’s best Barolo wines and features truly breathtaking baroque architecture, and the capital, Turin, even hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics. Frangelico, the original hazelnut liqueur, still stands as a singular and delicious export, in its iconic bottle shaped like a friar.
Just east of Piedmont is Lombardy. Its capital, Milan, may be known as a global hub of fashion and commerce, but the town of Bormio is the birthplace of Braulio. A pharmacist in 1875, Francesco Peloni, brought together distinct flavors and aromas from Italy’s mountainous region and created a one-of-a-kind alpine amaro that has been passed down for four generations. Naturally, it was named after nearby Mount Braulio, known for its abundance of aromatic herbs, beautiful flowers, roots and berries that grow on its slopes.
Braulio, however, is only one of several notable liqueurs to come from Lombardy, since the region is also home to Campari. The liqueur was introduced to the world in 1860, when Gaspare Campari invented the striking red apéritif and opened Caffé Campari in downtown Milan. It soon became a popular aperitivo in Milanese society and, aided by Gaspare’s son Davide, eventually grew into a global brand.
Cynar (pronounced chee-nar) was introduced in 1952 in Venice by Angelo Dalle Molle, who was a bit of a playboy by reputation. His tagline for his creation was “against the stress of modern life.” Angelo must have had a lot of stress in his life as he had six children from six different women. When he died at the age of 90, he left his fortune to his secretary.
Venice isn’t the only city in Veneto, the region between Lombardy and the Adriatic Sea, to produce a beloved Italian liqueur. To the west, two brothers celebrated the Padua International Fair in 1919 by sharing Aperol with the world. Aperol is a beguiling mix of bitter and sweet notes in perfect proportions. The recipe has remained unchanged and is a secret to this day. But what is no longer a secret is the Aperol Spritz, the summer’s perfect aperitivo.
The regions already mentioned are all clustered toward the north of the country, while Sicily is as southern as it gets. Averna originated here in the city of Caltanissetta, the geographic center of the island. Today, the amaro is carefully crafted using a family recipe of herbs and roots that have been passed down from one generation to another since 1868. The recipe was given to Salvatore Averna by Fra Girolamo, a Benedictine monk from the Abbey of the Holy Spirit in Caltanissetta. Its ingredients give it a rich, full body with a delicate citrus fragrance.