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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:
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.
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.
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.
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