Aperitivo and Digestivo-Italian drinking traditions

By Marco Giovanetti

Italians are stylish about what they drink. They are smart drinkers, favoring low alcoholic drinks and always combining the beverages to the food so that one compliments the other. There is a particular reason why the food of Piedmonte goes well with a Barolo or Barbaresco and a reason one never drinks a cappuccino in the afternoon. There are sequences of activities in the rhythm of an Italian day. Rituals, where form follows function and function, create a sense of well-being that all other cultures aspire to.

The ceremony of the Italian aperitivo, the pre-dinner drink, that “prepares your stomach” and gets your digestive juices flowing is formulated so you can fully enjoy the meal in prospect. The custom of enjoying an aperitivo in the evening before a meal is enormously popular in Italy. The low alcohol content and dry or even bitter character of Italian aperitivo are perfectly designed to the Italian amuse bouche.  Drinks like prosecco, Aperol, Vermouth, a Venetian Spritz or the red herbal Campari are part of the typical Italian aperitivo hour, an afterwork ritual that offers a moment of peace at the end of a day where you go for a pre-dinner drink to enjoy a snack and socialize with your friends.

And as the evening progress into the night and you’ve had enjoyed a meal in the spirits of kings and, your after-dinner espresso is followed by a drink known as a digestivo (sometimes referred to as an ammazzacaffe – “coffee killer” for the fact that you take it after you’ve had your strong coffee).  Digestivi are after dinner drinks to help out your digestions. Drinks like Averna, Strega, Limoncello and Grappa are loved by Italians for their digestive properties. Concoctions of herbs, roots, barks, flowers and spices, Italian digestivi are well known for their restorative properties.  There are more than 300 different kinds of after-dinner digestive drinks Italians have created over the centuries. Today’s hot mixologists are using their flavors and digestive properties to create modern elixirs with a renewed popularity. So much so that many are now standard drinks at most international bars and restaurants.

Spiritueux Iberville

Not too long ago, I recently had a chance to try two Italian inspired Aperitivo and Digestivo drinks ( Amernoir and Amermelade)  made in Quebec by Les Spiritueux Iberville. Mario D’Amico developed this local enterprise inspired by his grandfather Mario D’Amico Sr, who immigrated to Quebec in 1953 from the region of Molise in Italy. Mario wanted to develop unique products  such as bitter liqueurs that combine Italian traditions with local Quebec ingredients

Amernoir (SAQ # 13505008, $32.75) is a beautiful and electrifying Amaro, a classy end to any fine meal. It had fascinating aromas of wild mint, szechuan pepper and bitter orange. This digestif is made with a mix of diverse species and a touch of local green peppery alder.  On the mouth, it was slightly sweet with a salty and bitter finale. After a sip of Amernoir, I felt like being in a jazz bar in Rome or Milan. Best served on its own, dry.

Amermelade (SAQ #14070966, 21.25$) is a modern interpretation of the classic Italian aperitivo. This aperitivo is made with locally grown sea buckthorn, sumac and sweet gale.  A highly aromatic nose reminiscent of ginger, sarsaparilla with bitter herbs and other confit citrus notes. On the palate, it is sumptuous, rich with a long lingering finale reminiscent of dried rose petals and pink peppercorns. Perfect on the rocks. Amermelade will come back on SAQ shelves as of beginning next April.