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"When in Rome,
do as the Romans do." So goes the old adage. In Italy, where it's
customary to bookend one's meals with a pre-dinner aperitivo or a post-dinner digestivo, Italian liqueurs such as amari, sambuca and limoncello are as much a part of the dining
culture as the meal itself.
What is a liqueur?
Liqueurs are alcoholic beverages that have a
relatively low alcohol content, typically ranging somewhere between 15 to 30%
ABV. These distilled spirits are sweetened with sugar or other
sweeteners and flavored using different ingredients ranging from fruits (e.g. Chambord) to chocolate (e.g. Mozart), coffee (e.g. Tia Maria), flowers (e.g. St-Germain), nuts (e.g. Amaretto), honey (e.g. Drambuie), herbs and spices (e.g. Galliano), whiskey (e.g. Irish Mist), cream (e.g. Amarula) or even
vegetables such as artichoke (eg. Cynar). There are also several crème liqueurs such as crème de cassis and crème de banane, which tend to contain lower
amounts of alcohol, around 15%, which puts the in different category
The word 'liqueur' is thought to be derived from the Italian word
'liquefare,' which means 'to liquefy.' During the Middle Ages, tinctures were
concocted by monks as remedies to cure or treat various ailments. Dried
herbs and other medicinal flora were infused in alcohol to release their
essential oils. Sugar was also added to these early liqueurs to make them more
Sambuca is similar to anisette but made from a distillation of star
Sambuca 'con la mosca,' which means 'with the fly' in Italian, traditionally
comes with three coffee beans floating on top to symbolize health, wealth and good luck. To add
to the fun, the sambuca's surface is briefly set on fire before serving to
toast the beans, then extinguished just before drinking. Others prefer to
dilute this sweet liqueur with chilled water. Molinari is the world's most popular brand of sambuca and has been in
operation since 1945, a testament to its tastiness and effectiveness as a digestive
Campari, the signature bright red
bitter, is most commonly served with tonic water, or with equal parts sweet
vermouth and gin as a Negroni. You can also enjoy this
sweet, syrupy liqueur on the rocks, or as a refreshing spritz by simply adding white or sparkling wine. Campari was originally
produced in the late 1800s in the Piedmont region of Italy, but today's recipe
now calls for 60 different ingredients, including orange
peels, bergamot, rhubarb, ginseng and herbs.
Frangelico is easily recognizable with its distinctive Franciscan friar-shaped
bottle. Named after the Piemontese hermit monk who is believed to have lived in
the region during the 18th century, the recipe for this sweet dessert liqueur
goes back centuries. Tonda Gentile hazelnuts are soaked in a base spirit together with coffee, cocoa, vanilla
bean and other herbs. The resulting liqueur is then filtered,
sweetened and bottled.
A sip of limoncello is a taste of pure sunshine. In Italy, this delicious digestivo is
served in ice-cold shot glasses. Made from lemon rindsthat are fermented and then
macerated in alcohol, limoncello is often associated with the Amalfi Coast in
towns like Sorrento, where the large, fragrant lemons grow in abundance. Its
tangy, refreshing taste makes it the perfect summer liqueur.
Amaretto is frequently used in desserts and cocktails. Depending upon the
brand, this dark, sweet almond liqueur is flavored using various ingredients such as: almond
kernel oil, herbs and other botanicals. The name 'amaretto' means
'little bitter' in Italian, although the liqueur itself is traditionally sweet. Disaronno is the best known brand of amaretto, produced in the town of
Saronno. Those who prefer a slightly more bitter tasting almond liqueur should
try Averna, a Sicilian maker of amaretto.
The intensely fragrant Fernet-Branca is a bitter herbal digestivo that was invented in 1945. This
Milanese bitters is made from a secret blend of 27
different herbs and other flowers, roots and plants that are said to aid digestion and help settle the stomach.
Fernet-Branca is most often consumed neat and served in a cordial glass, but it
can also be combined with gin and sweet vermouth
The Luxardo brand of Maraschino traces its storied past back six generations to the founding of its
original distillery in 1821. Made from a true distillation of sour Marasca
cherries and crushed pits, this clear Italian liqueur is a must-try. Its subtle,
bitter almond flavor will work wonders when it comes
to enhancing your cocktails. After all, it's not every liqueur that can boast
the "Privilegiata Fabrica Maraschino Excelsior" denomination, a
distinction that the Emperor of Austria awarded the Luxardo family's Maraschino
liqueur in 1829.
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