5 Bitter Drinks We Wish Were a Bigger Deal in the US

September 21, 2015

Italy has been drinking bitter for a very long time—and we should be following suit.

A bitter revolution is bubbling here in the States: We’re drinking Negronis, burning toast, sautéeing dark greens, and making our own bitters. But in Italy, this isn’t anything new, where Campari, Aperol, Averna, Cynar, and other bitter potions have been flowing for centuries. After spending some time drinking (I mean, immersing myself in culture!) in Italy, there are five super prevalent bitter drinks that we want to be seeing stateside as often as soda pop. Listen up cafés, restaurants, bars, and drink companies:

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1. Espresso

Italy’s two main sources of hydration might be wine and espresso. Start the day and punctuate lulls with a shot of espresso, which you obtain standing at a bar. It’s cheap—maybe one euro—and quick, not more than 2 minutes. The result is a jolt of energy. Take that, latte.

More: A cocktail that marries espresso and amaro in a bitter double whammy.

2. Aperol Spritz

Come 5 P.M., sidewalks in Rome are studded with red, glowing orbs. Those would be Aperol Spritzes, served in stemmed wine glasses with ice and an orange peel. While we’re starting to order them at American bars, I’d be in favor of adopting this cocktail as the everyday, low-alcohol sundowner: It’s effervescent from Prosecco, refreshing from ice and orange, biting from the Aperol.

3. Bottled Campari Soda

The lazy man’s Negroni is the Campari Soda (Campari + soda water), and the really lazy Campari Soda is bottled. It is available at Italian convenience stores, espresso bars, and hotel mini-bars for 1.20 euros. It is perfectly balanced, cute in its diminutiveness, and you get a great bottle out of the deal.

More: Drink Campari every which way.

4. Sanbitter

Think of this as nonalcoholic Campari: bitter-herbal, with a sweetness from cane sugar. This red soda produced by San Pellegrino can be found in some Italian markets nationwide, luckily for us. Drink it on its own from the sweet little glass bottle, or with soda water and lemon. Or with gin.

5. Amari

Amaro means “bitter” in Italian and its plural amari describes a host of bittersweet herbal Italian liqueurs. For instance: Averna, Cynar, Montenegro, Campari, Aperol, Ramazzotti, and Fernet. Each are a little different, depending on the herbs that are used to make them. Some land in cocktails, but a glass of one with ice commonly ends a meal in Italy since they aid in digestion (so it is good for you). It’s a dinner ritual that’s endlessly pleasing and helps with all that pasta we just ate (what you got, Scotch?).

Tell us: Which bitter drink proves to you that bitter is better?

Photos by James Ransom and yours truly

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bitter Love
    Bitter Love
  • Karolina
  • Jenn Kelly
    Jenn Kelly
  • Manisha
  • 702551
Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


Bitter L. December 3, 2018
We agree! That's why we created Bitter Love - ready to drink sparkling bitters!
Karolina January 28, 2016
Sparkling Bitters
Jenn K. September 24, 2015
The confusingly named "Ginger Baladin", which is an Italian bitter soda that doesn't actually contain ginger, was my hands-down favourite discovery on a recent trip to Italy. It is the least sweet and most cocktail-like of all of the bitter sodas that I tried and of course I can't find it back in Canada...
Manisha September 22, 2015
Just this summer I've come to love espressos. A shot would get me up my five-year-old daughter's speed, a great way to have enough energy to finish the afternoon's outings. I like the nice, clean "high" which doesn't keep my jittery for an hour after drinking but fills me with the will to tackle the day's challenging. And surprisingly, for me it acts like an appetite suppressant so I'm not overeating. All good things. I'm a total convert.
702551 September 22, 2015
I'm a big fan of vermouths as aperitivos (pre-meal drinks): Punt e Mes as well as Carpano. Usually on the rocks with a splash of soda, orange twist.

The aforementioned Campari & soda is another great aperitivo. If I am looking for something less boozy, bitters & soda works for me.

Amongst cocktails, for sure the Negroni takes top honors. If I am looking for something just slightly bitter, a Manhattan is a good option, especially if it is made in the traditional style with rye whiskey instead of bourbon (the corn in the latter makes for a much sweeter drink and hides much of the lovely bitterness).

I've also made my own orange wine. There's a Food52 recipe from 2009 right here:

The one I made was with white wine, made in January to be consumed six months later over ice. I have never seen vin à l'orange in a restaurant. It's old-timey home-style Provençal France.