We met with the talented bartender Julian Biondi to get the low-down on classic Italian drinks. He’s one of our favorite bartenders in Florence (and on our very fun Aperitivo Tour in Florence) and we’ve learned a lot from picking Julian’s brain. We asked him to tell us about his favorite Italian Cocktails, and put this list together, complete with a bit of history!
Top 7 Classic Italian Cocktails, according to (awesome) bartender Julian Biondi in Florence (ahem, winner of best cocktail during Florence Cocktail Week 2016)
#1- L’AMERICANO (Tu vuo’ fa’ ll’americano…)
4cl Campari, 4cl Red Vermouth, Topped with soda
Created in Italy during the first years of the 20th century, the name Americano refers to America and the style of drinking “on the rocks,” in old-fashioned glasses (in that period the majority of drinks were in cups without ice).
This is most likely the real story, while the legend holds that it was invented in honor of the boxer Primo Carnera, nicknamed “The American,” who was the first European to win the heavyweight title in the USA. However, this is an urban legend because this event took place in 1933, which would mean that the Americano was created after the Negroni, and we know that that isn’t the case.
#2- Il MILANO-TORINO
4cl Campari, 4cl Vermouth, Punt&Mes (NO SODA)
The Milano-Torino is a variation of the Americano created to celebrate the inauguration of the A4 Highway that connects Milan to Turin. The ingredients are in fact Campari from Milan, and Punt&Mes, a vermouth from Turin. The cocktail brings the two cities together, just as the highway did in 1932.
#3- Il BELLINI
10cl Sparkling Wine, 4cl White Peach Juice
The Bellini cocktail was created by Giuseppe Cipriani, the owner of Harry’s Bar in Venice, in 1948 on the occasion of an exhibit dedicated to Giovanni Bellini, known as Giambellino. The drink must be prepared with white peach juice (with pulp), and not with canned yellow peach juice as often happens. For this reason it is a seasonal cocktail that isn’t always available. Julian says Americans are often very disappointed when he is unable to make Bellini in the winter!
#4- Il NEGRONI
3cl Gin, 3cl Campari, 3cl Red Vermouth
Classic bitter-based Aperitivo born in Florence circa 1919 thanks to a certain Count Camillo Negroni. Mr. Negroni had developed a taste for gin due to his time spent in England and upon returning to Florence, frequented historical caffes such as Rivoire and Caffe Casoni (now known as Caffe Giacosa). Legend has it that the drink was born from Negroni requesting trusted bartender Fosco Scarselli at Casoni to make his Americano with less soda water but topped up with gin. Variations include “sbagliato” with prosecco in place of soda.
#5- Il PUCCINI
10cl Sparkling Wine, 4cl Mandarin Orange Juice
The bartender Renato Haussmann from the Hotel Posta in Cortina d’Ampezzo, faithful to the concept of preparing cocktails with seasonal fruit, created the winter version of the Bellini using Mandarin Oranges from Calabria. It is such a successful cocktail that, in addition to being the “House Cocktail” of Hotel Posta, it was added to the list of AIBES* drinks.
*Associazione Italiana Barmen e Sostenitori (Association of Italian Bartenders and Supporters)
#6- IL CARDINALE
4,5cl gin, 3cl dry vermouth, 2cl campari
The Cardinale was invented by a Cardinal who frequented the Excelsior Hotel on Via Veneto in Rome. He suggested the recipe to his bartender, and the idea was a success with the other clients too, so the bartender christened the cocktail with the name “Cardinale.”
#7- LO SPRITZ (meglio lo spritz che lo spread…)
one third Sparkling Wine, one-third Liquor (Aperol, Campari, Select), one-third Soda
The Spritz was created during the period of Hapsburg domination in Veneto during the 1800s. The soldiers, as well as various merchants, diplomats, and workers of the Hapsburg empire in Veneto quickly got used to the local habit of drinking in Osterias, but they weren’t comfortable with the large variety of wines from Veneto, which had a higher alcohol content than the beers they were used to. Hence the request to the local hosts to spritz a bit of water in the wine (the verb “spritzen,” in German) to make them a bit lighter. The original Spritz was in fact originally comprised of sparkling white or red wine, diluted with fresh water.
Over the years the Spritz has “grown up” with an infinite number of possible additions, like for example strong (and less strong) liquors such as Aperol, Bitter, Select (this last one almost exclusively in Venice), or a dark bitter like China Martini or Cynar with lemon peel either immersed in the drink or simply squeezed into the glass, according to taste.”