Simple Guide to Italian Liquors

2017/08/31 - Written by Marco Giovanetti
Simple Guide to Italian Liquors
Simple Guide to Italian Liquors
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Many of you enjoyed my previous post on Grappa. The response was overwhelming in Facebook. Many thanks for those who follow me on a regular basis To keep in a similar theme, on this week, why not discuss Liquori italiani?

No need to overstate the following: In Italy, “si mangia bene” (you eat well) and it is very common for many Italians to us to conclude their meals with an after dinner drink.  However, this can be overwhelming for those who are familiar Italian liquors.

What exactly are Italian liquors? Well, they are alcohols infused with herbs or other aromas. Like grappa, they are typically served after a meal as a “digestivo” (digestive) or as an “ammazzacaffè” (coffee killer) after coffee to “kill” its taste.

Liqueurs are not usually aged for long periods, but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to marry. There are many categories of liqueurs including: fruit liqueur, cream liqueur, coffee liqueur, chocolate liqueur, schnapps liqueur, brandy liqueur, anise liqueur, nut-flavoured liqueur, and herbal liqueur. At 15-30%, most liqueurs have a lower alcohol content than spirits, but some liqueurs have an alcohol content as high as 55%. Dessert wine, on the other hand, may taste like a liqueur, but contains no additional flavoring.

Here is a simple list of Italian liquors to help you get the most out of your Italian dining experience by doing as the Italians do and choosing the perfect post-meal drink. It will impossible to name all of them, I will be writing forever. Here is a small but significant sampler that you can find at the SAQ..

Definitely one of the most famous Italian liqueurs, Limoncello, has its origins from the Amalfi Coast where lemons are big and and enhanced with flavor.  This “sunny” tasting digestive has a vivid cheerful yellow color and a refreshing tangy taste coming from lemon peel infused in alcohol and then mixed with a simple syrup.  Although this liquor is served after meals all year round, it is especially appreciated during the warm summer months served in frozen shot glasses. Recommended producers: Pallini ( SAQ # 12104878, $20,40), Luxardo ( SAQ # 00400747, $22.40), Di Leva ( SAQ # 00365627, $20,05)

In the town of Benevento, Campania you will find a charming yellow-colored liquor called Strega (witch) which is only most appropriate since Benevento has also been dubbed the City of Witches.  Ancient customs says it has long been a meeting place for witches.  This liquor, typically consumed after meals, is a concoction of over 70 different ingredients including mint and fennel and saffron.Recommended producers: Giuseppe Alberti Benevento Strega Cream ( SAQ # 11896455, $29.25)

Perhaps the most popular liquor of Calabria is Vecchio Amaro del Capo, often used as an “ammazzacaffè”.  Originally crafted by monks for medicinal purposes, this liquor has a particular mix  of flowers, roots, herbs and fruit from this region.  Don’t let the name “amaro” (bitter) scare you. Although this liquor has some bitterness in  it, it actually has a subtle sweetness with a strong aromatic taste. For an enhanced experience, it should be consumed ice cold (-20C) in frozen shot glasses to enhance the variety of flavors. Caffo Vecchio Amaro del Capo. SAQ # 11795881, $29.05

Sicily offers a variety of liquors. One of the most popular liquors is Amaro Averna ( SAQ #  12829271, $25.45), originally created by monks to take care of many illnesses. This liquor, drunk mainly after meals to help digestion, is made up of citrus rinds, herbs, roots and caramel, aged in barrels giving it a slightly bitter taste.

Another very famous Italian licore is Frangelico ( SAQ #11098761, $26.95). Frangelico was born in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, its origins date back more than 300 years to the presence of early Christian monks living in the hills of the area. To produce Frangelico, local Piedmont hazelnuts are roasted and infused in a solution of water and alcohol. A number of natural extracts - including cocoa and vanilla - are mixed with the hazelnut infusion and  distillate to create the Frangelico concentrate. The mixture is then left to  mature in vats for 6 to 8 weeks.  The resulting liqueur is pale gold in color, a rich texture, and a pronounced hazelnut flavor with hints of vanilla and dark chocolate.  As a classic liqueur, it’s perfect after a meal - either with coffee or in coffee, or pour it over ice in a chunky tumbler.

And let's not forget about Fernet Branca. As you know, this is  a traditional Italian digestivo made from a secret mix of herbs including myrrh, saffron, chamomile and gentian. This digestivo is so popular in Argentina that the brand built a second factory in Buenos Aires to serve the Latin  American market exclusively Fernet-Branca sold in north america is all made in Milan.)

A shot of Fernet-Branca is often called the “bartender’s handshake” because of its popularity among professional mixologists. Fernet can be enjoyed on the rocks, straight or in cocktails. 

At last but not least important is Sambuca. Crystal clear, and similar to anisette, Sambuca’s flavours come  from the fruit of the elderberry bush, not aniseed. Sambuca comes in different styles and colors including white sambuca (which is actually clear), black sambuca (which is more like a dark purple) and red sambuca (which is actually red). In Italy it is common to serve it straight up.  Sambuca with some floating coffee beans that serve as a decoration, but they can be chewed to increase the taste of anise. It is said that the beans represent health, happiness, and prosperity or the Trinity. Sambuca may also be served in a shot glass and then set on fire for a second or two, in order to increase its flavor. Recommended producers: Molinari ( SAQ # 10349425, $25.30) and Ramazotti ( SAQ # 00323972. $21.75).

Until next week for more wine and spirit adventures!!! 

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