When it comes to aperitivos and digestivos, Americans generally know little more than one comes before dinner and the other after, and that they may or may not be alcoholic. In the United States, both are regarded as a kind of luxurious beverage — no one goes out with the intention to just become intoxicated on an aperitivo or digestivo, and it’s unclear as to what occasion either should be imbibed. In Italy, though, aperitivos and digestivos are culturally ingrained and regarded for so much more than their alcoholic effects.
By learning about each, and understanding why anyone would add an aperitivo or digestivo to a meal, you’ll add to the richness of your dining experience. As a bonus, you’ll also impress your friends and family with how knowledgeable and cultured you are!
You may have heard of at least a couple of these drinks: Prosecco, Bellini, Vermouth, Campari, Aperol…The Italians consider each of these an aperitivo. In Italy, the aperitivo is consumed before lunch or dinner, at the time Americans would consider “Happy Hour.” The difference, though, is that this Italian “happy hour” doesn’t exist as a means of becoming intoxicated for half the price. The aperitivi are consumed to rouse the appetite and stimulate digestion. Sometimes, the aperitivo is taken with light snacks, such as olives or a little bread; sometimes, it’s enjoyed alone. Its purpose is to help you unwind from a long day, to relax and socialize.
The top aperitivo for most Italians is Campari, a somewhat bitter alcohol, made from an infusion of herbs. Sometimes, cocktails will also be drank as aperitivi, but they’re traditionally kept simple.
Among the most common digestivi are Grappa, Genepi, Fernet Branca, Amaro Lucano, Averna Amaro, Ramazotti, Cynar, Limoncello, Strega, and Sambuca.
Digestivi are sometimes referred to as “amaro” or “amari,” which translate as “bitter” or “bitters.” Concoctions of herbs, roots, barks, berries, spices, flowers, and citrus peels, these drinks are slightly bitter to serve as a kind of herbal medicine that is taken after dinner to aid in digestion. Generally, they’re served in small shots that are sipped and, because of the adjusted palate, enjoyed.
One of the most popular digestive is Grappa, which has a long history that goes all the way back to the first century. The word “Grappa” refers to grapes, as it is created from the distilled and pressed remainder of grapes used in winemaking.
Pinocchio’s offers a variety of aperitivos and digestivos to give you the full Italian dining experience. Bring your family or friends down and expertly choose one or both the selection and explain how aperitivos and digestivos are not just alcoholic beverages, but rather, libations rooted in thick layers of culture, custom, history and the appreciation of life and breaking bread with friends, family and even strangers. Above all else, the Italian culture is one that celebrates beauty. When you raise your aperitivo or digestivo and cheers, “Salute!” be reminded that you’re partaking in an age-old tradition of living in the moment and appreciating everything that exists within it: your friends and/or family, your health, and the rich tastes of an Italian before or after dinner drink.