While the main focus here at Xtrawine is placed on the many amazing Italian wines that are made available by producers across the country, we feel that some recognition should be given to the many other beverage producers that take a slightly different route.
In addition to being renowned for the quality of its wines, Italy is also well-regarded for the quality of the many liqueurs that emanate from the country. Here we are going to take a look at some of the most popular so you have a few more choices at your disposal should you choose to explore any beverages outside of wine.
Perhaps one of the most famous Italian liqueurs, particularly in Great Britain where the Disarrano brand has gained widespread popularity, Amaretto is a sweet liqueur that goes exceptionally well with rich foods and desserts.
Made using almonds or almond essence, it carries an amber hue and has numerous uses. Many enjoy it as a standalone drink on the rocks following a nice meal, however, it is also commonly used as a digestive drink. Further, its sweet tastes lends itself well to cake production, as does the hint of almonds that personify the drink. Like many liqueurs, it also works well as part of a cocktail, such as the famous Amaretto Sour, and is a good mixing drink. Dr. Pepper fans, in particular, tend to enjoy Amaretto and coca cola because of its similar taste to the popular soft drink.
Known for having a fairly high alcohol content, Grappa is one of the Italian liqueurs that is most closely associated with wine. This is because it is made using the seeds, stems, and peels of grapes, meaning many winemakers also produce Grappa using the parts of grapes that do not lend themselves well to the winemaking process.
Typically clear in colouring, many different flavours and variations of Grappa are available. In fact, it is often flavoured using other fruits, such as pears, apples, and prunes. Though predominantly popular in the north of Italy, where is it typically enjoyed as an after-dinner treat or alongside a nice cup of coffee, Grappa has been gaining international acclaim in more recent years, especially in the United States where the drink has become popular.
One of the more interesting Italian liqueurs, at least historically, Amaro Fernet Branca, which is often shortened to simply Fernet, is often enjoyed after a meal alongside a cup of coffee. Many also uses it to “correct” espresso shots. It is made using a variety of ingredients that are obtained from four different continents and the drink will rest in a wooden barrel for a minimum of one year once all of the ingredients have been infused. In this respect, it is extremely similar to wine.
The Fernet name comes from the Milanese dialect, finding its origins in the words “fer net”, which referred to the hot metal iron rods that are used to mix the drink’s ingredients together. Interestingly, when Fernet started to be exported away from Italy, it ran into a couple of hurdles in the United States. Upon first being tested by inspectors from the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco, Fernet was considered to be a medicinal beverage, allowing it to enjoy lower duties than other alcoholic drinks. It was only after some time had passed that Fernet was reclassified as a liqueur, thus leading to it requiring a higher import duty.
Most widely produced in the Sorrento Coast, which is part of the Italian region of Campania, Limoncello, as the name suggests, is made using lemon rinds. The rinds are macerated in alcohol to create the drink, with those found on the Sorrento Coast being especially famous due to their size. In some cases, the lemons used in the drink’s production are as large as watermelons. Combine that with the wonderful scents you tend to find in many coastal regions and you have a drink that has been gaining popularity over the years.
In fact, many Limoncello fans will tell you that the best examples of the liqueur are those that achieve a balance between the lemon and marine scents, with some going so far as to say that a dash of lime only adds to the experience. While it is now produced in many regions of Italy, true connoisseurs tend to point towards the version created on the Sorrento Coast as being the absolute pick of the bunch.
Another extremely popular Italian liqueur with those in Britain, Sambuca is often consumed as a shot in that country, thus stripping away much of the refinement that the drink is known for in its native Italy.
Domestically, Sambuca is often served as a digestive following a meal, but it is not uncommon to see the drink served with water, creating a surprisingly refreshing beverage in the process. Sambuca is most notable for its thick, almost syrupy consistency. Additionally, Italian traditional dictates that a glass of Sambuca should contains three coffee beans, one each representing happiness, health, and prosperity. This falls in line with the Italian belief that the number three is lucky. If you want this version of the drink, look for a restaurant or bar that serves Sambuca con la mosca.
Bridging the gap between wine and liqueur, Marsala is one of the most famous “Port-like” wines that is produced widely throughout the country. Because of this, the quality and construction of a bottle of Marsala has the potential to differ greatly, with cheaper versions often being called Marsala imitations. These are often used to cook with, however, the more expensive and highly-regarded versions of the drink are commonly served alongside desserts because of their sweet, rich taste.
Available in dry, semi-dry, and sweet varieties, there are plenty of Marsalas to enjoy if you are an Italian wine lover. Better yet, variety is found in ageing, as some Marsalas are released after one year, whereas others are not made available for public consumption until they have been aged for a decade.