Whilst Paolo, 27, from Sardinia, was teaching me how to drink Caffe Corretto properly we discussed traditional Italian drinking habits, anything from the making of grappa to the well-known Aperol Spritz.
What are your first memories of spirits and alcohol growing up in Italy?
I remember both my father and his father, my grandfather, distilling their own grappa at home. Rather than using the skin of the grapes, vinaccia, they crushed the stems to make the spirit. This was a very popular drink in our family. I can still remember the smell of freshly distilled grappa, one of my favourite things about living at home.
Did the women in the family have any part in making spirits?
Whilst the men were making grappa it was the women whose job it was to create liqueurs such as Limoncello. In fact, some Italian men believe the sign of a proper housewife is her ability to make a great liqueur!
What do you most miss about Italian drinking culture when living in the UK?
Aperitivo and proper glassware! (We should definitely be friends). In Italy you finish work and go to a bar to have a drink with friends, anything from Aperol Spritz to Negroni to a glass of white wine. When you buy a drink, a small buffet is always included. You should never be asked to pay for the food separately. Aperitivo, as the Italians call it, is available every day normally from 18:00 to 21:00.
So how do you make a perfect Aperol Spritz? I’ve had some with white wine before..
Aperol Spritz has a few variations, although in Italy they use different names for different serves. It all started from Aperol Soda, which is served in a small bottle and is only 3% ABV. Nowadays most bars serve their own variations with Prosecco and soda, sometimes with white wine, in which case, it would be called Bicicletta, a bicycle.
Can you tell me more about Bicicletta?
Bicicletta has only two ingredients: Campari Soda (10% ABV) and dry white wine. And as I mentioned before, one variation is with Aperol Soda. No one really knows where the name comes from but there are several stories around it. Elderly men always used to share this drink and they would cycle home after having one too many, going from side to side, amusing the other villagers. This is probably the most popular story.
What about Negroni, it seems to be a popular choice during aperitif?
Negroni is more the drink for stylish business people. Imagine young Italians wearing beautiful suits and stilettos, enjoying an aperitivo after a hard day in the office. Very classy cocktail.
You mentioned the glassware before – what is it exactly that you don’t like?
I really dislike the small wine glasses you get in most bars and pubs in the UK, especially the small round ones! I prefer not to have the glass filled to the brim – you can’t enjoy the wine that way. The quality of wines served in some bars and pubs is very poor and the lack of knowledge (or lack of interest) extends all the way to the glassware. Surely if you serve great wines you would make sure they are served in perfect glasses.
To my knowledge, Italians are very into their foods, but how important is drink during meals?
Bottles of Limoncello or other stronger, slightly herbal spirits are brought to the table after the meal for everyone to help themselves to improve digestion. This is where café corretto comes into the picture – a shot of espresso mixed with a shot of Sambuca or grappa. The more common name for it is Ammazza caffe, kill the coffee. I wouldn’t mind having these served in the UK as well..
Any other drinks you’d like to mention?
Well, there’s this drink we have in Sardinia, you order a shot of dark rum and a shot of thick pear juice in two separate glasses. You then sip each in turn. It’s delicious! Another Sardinian drink is Mirto. It is a liqueur made from the berries of the myrtle plant. There are two variations: Mirto Rosso, which is made from the black variety and is quite sweet, and Mirto Bianco, which is made from the white variety, or sometimes from the leaves.
2 parts of Campari (or Aperol)
2 parts of Italian white wine (Pinot Grigio, for example)
Slice of lemon
Add Campari and wine into a tall glass with ice and top up with soda. Garnish with lemon.