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Italian Liqueurs, The Best In The World

Mar 18, 2008
Walk into a bar or cafe in Italy and as well as the espresso and coffee machine the size of a small tank (and similarly constructed), you'll be presented with an array of brightly-coloured and interestingly-shaped bottles containing liquids of indeterminate origin.

The Italians, perhaps even more so than any other nationality love their liqueurs, drinks designed to be drunk either before or after a meal to either stimulate appetite or to ease digestion. They're made with a vast array of fruits - such as the familiar Limoncello made with lemons from Amalfi - or herbs and spices, roots and aromatics, which combine to create all manner of strange, although usually interesting flavours. As with most things in Italy each region has its own speciality liqueur, some more appetising than others.

The Italians love liqueurs, it seems as though every meal you ever have in Italy, whether it be in a restaurant or with a family, a different liqueur is pulled out for you to taste. One of the most popular drinks in any Italian household isn't a liqueur but a spirit called Grappa. Grappa is really the only full-strength domestic spirit you're likely to find in Italy. Made with the skins, stalks and other residue resultant from wine making, grappa is distilled to at least 40 per cent by volume and sold without aging.

There are exceptions, with some 'dark' grappas being aged in oak barrels prior to release, but this is relatively rare. Be careful with this sprit as qualities do vary, especially in the home made varieties which can sometimes more resemble paint stripper! One of the very best known liqueurs is Amaretto which originates from 1525, almost five centuries ago. The recipe has changed slightly over time as it used to be made using the kernels of apricots principally. Today almond essence is added to give it its distinctive taste and aroma that we now recognise.

The precise recipe at the world famous Disaronno factory is still a closely-guarded secret. It's usually drunk over ice, with a squeeze of lemon juice, at the end of a meal to help with the digestion, although it is also used in coffee and as a key ingredient in cocktails. It was later, however, and especially during the mid 1800s, that Italian drinks makers began to experiment with differing selections of botanicals to create liqueurs that are well-known brands today.

Campari, for instance the bright red aperitivo that mixes well with tonic (add a wedge of lime!) and fresh orange juice over ice was created in the 1860s by Gaspare Campari, a lad of just 14 years at the time, despite being a master drinks maker at the Bass Bar in Turin. He combined a total of 60 ingredients, mostly peels, barks and herbs, to concoct a drink that would 'get the juices flowing prior to eating. He then marketed it across the country, pioneering the whole concept of bar advertising where bars were obliged to display a 'Campari bitters sold here' type sign in return for the privilege of stocking the stuff.

Around the same time, on the island of Sicily, another entrepreneur called Salvatore Averna became the benefactor of the Convent of St Spirito Abbey, where they made a restorative herbal liqueur using an ancient and secret recipe. In 1854 the friars of the abbey thanked Salvatore for his support by releasing the recipe to him, and in 1868 he started making this bitter concoction for guests of his house. Years later his son, Francesco, began taking the drink to fairs and events across Italy, where it gained a reputation and was appointed Royal Approval in 1912.

Each with their interesting and distinct histories and origins, Italian liqueurs deserve to be explored, most of the popular ones are available stores outside of Italy.
About the Author
Italian Liqueurs

You may not always agree with my writings but I hope to inform.

Harwood E Woodpecker
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