The Classic Italian Cocktails To Drink Now

Is there anything more idyllic than overlooking a piazza with a glass of wine in hand in an Italian city that seems right from a postcard?

We'd argue not much except that; maybe instead of wine, you'd enjoy a classic Italian cocktail.

There are so many popular Italian drinks; it’d be a waste to travel to Italy and only order wine. Yes, wine is the obvious option, but if you want to get authentic, order a classic Italian cocktail during aperitivo.

If you haven't taken part, aperitivo is like happy hour but so much better because the cocktail price often includes a few small plates of rather delicious food.

Here are ten typical Italian cocktails to try when you travel to Italy:

Negroni Cocktail On Table Italy

The Milano-Torino Cocktail

We’re starting with the most classic Italian classic cocktails. It was created at the famous Camparino bar in Milan (where we love to go during our Milan group trips!) back in the 1800s. This drink is like the grandfather of Italian cocktails because it led to variations we know as the Americano (where soda water is added) and the Negroni (where gin is added).

The traditional Milano-Torino cocktail recipe is equal parts bitter Campari, and sweet vermouth served in a rocks glass with orange. Its name is a nod to the cities from which the main ingredients hail: Milan for Campari and Turin for Martini & Rossi sweet red vermouth.

The Americano Cocktail 

Some argue the Milano-Torino and the Americano are the same cocktails, while others say the Americano is its own thing. The reason it’s confusing? Because the Americano cocktail is essentially a Milano-Torino that's served in a tall glass with a good amount of soda water!

Considered the precursor to the Negroni, this lighter cocktail is a go-to in the hot summer heat. It’s named the “Americano” because it was the drink of choice of Americans during the Prohibition era.

The Negroni Cocktail 

The story goes that back in 1919 the Count Negroni asked a bartender at the Caffe Casoni in Florence to make an Americano cocktail with gin instead of soda water. To this day, a classic Negroni cocktail is equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth, and Campari served on the rocks with an orange peel.

This cocktail is all parts alcohol, so it's not for the faint of heart, but it doesn’t get more Florentine than sipping on an ice-cold Negroni pre-dinner.

Il Cardinale Cocktail

This drink was created by a cardinal in Rome, who asked the bartender to mix him a twist on the Negroni made with dry vermouth instead of the usual sweet red vermouth. This drink quickly became a hit with other patrons and was christened “The Cardinal” (Il Cardinale). Order it when you're in Rome as it is most popular in the city where it was invented.

The Gin and It Cocktail

A Gin and It (pronounced “eat”) cocktail is an Italian take on the popular Gin and French. The “It” part of the cocktail is about the sweet red vermouth mixed with gin and served as a pre-dinner cocktail. True, this is a lesser-known cocktail, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a barman in Italy who doesn’t know how to make it. Order one, and you can give yourself kudos for getting a drink that hardly any non-Italians even know exists.

The Negroni Sbagliato Cocktail

Legend has it that the Negroni Sbagliato cocktail was created in Milan in 1972 at Bar Basso. The bartender, Mirko Stocchetto, mistakenly added sparkling wine instead of gin to a Negroni. The word “sbagliato” means mistake in Italian. This error was good news for the rest of the world, though as this cocktail still provides the bitter taste of a Negroni, but with a light aftertaste.

The Garibaldi Cocktail

Most people are surprised to learn that Italy was not unified as a country until 1871. At that time, Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian General, and politician helped unify the country, so the Garibaldi cocktail was created in his honor. The two main ingredients are mixed in a 1:1 ratio, and each comes from the north and the south to represent the country's unification. Representing the north is Campari, and orange juice represents the south since orange trees are plentiful there.

The Spritz Cocktail

The Aperol Spritz has recently become a sort icon for classic Italian cocktails. But the Spritz is not so much one distinct drink as it is a family of cocktails made with wine, soda water, and some bitter liquor known as amari.

Depending on where you are in Italy, a Spritz cocktail might be served in various glasses, a variety of wines (sometimes sparkling, sometimes flat), or with a variety of bitter liquors.

An Aperol Spritz is probably the most common throughout Italy. Still, it could be made with the artichoke-based Venetian liquor known a Cynar or other bitter liqueurs like Ramazzotti or Campari. In Venice, it is sometimes made with Select, which gives it a distinct reddish hue, and many locals make it with still wine instead of bubbles.

The bottom line is you should make it easier on the bartender and always specify the bitter liquor you want in your Spritz. 

The Bellini Cocktail 

For something a little lighter and a touch sweeter, give the classic Bellini cocktail a try. Created in the 1940s by bartender Giuseppe Cardini at his famous Harry's Bar in Venice, the classic Bellini is made by mixing Prosecco with peach puree.

The drink's name Bellini is because its pale color reminded Cardini of a hue in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. A well-made Bellini cocktail is both sweet and satisfying. Since it doesn’t contain any hard alcohol, it’s also a lot easier to drink than many other classic Italian cocktails. 

The Sgroppino al Limone Cocktail

In addition to the Bellini and the Spritz, another classic Italian cocktail from Venice is the sgroppino. The sgroppino al limone (the most popular version) is a Venetian drink made from lemon sorbet, ice-cold vodka, and Prosecco, and the first record of this drink goes all the way back to 1528.

The name comes from the Venetian word, “sgropare,” which means to loosen. It was created with the idea of drinking it between courses to cleanse the palate for the next course and often served to the aristocrats and nobility.

Some bartenders in different parts of Italy will make it with milk or gelato (this is popular in Florence) or use other sorbet flavors. In Sicily, it is often served with granita (a kind of Italian ice slushy) and just vodka. Sometimes, it will come free after a meal or be offered on the dessert or after-dinner drink menu.

So there you have it -- our list of cocktails you must try when you travel to Italy. Any others we forgot? Let us know in the comments!


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Photo Credit: Christine Davis

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