Leaving a bitter taste in one’s mouth is an idiom associated with the negative but in Italy, a country that thrives on big flavours, bitterness is biblical when it comes to cocktails.

Just think of the famous Italian cocktails. You have the Aperol spritz, a summertime staple that sparkles with the refreshing taste of orange and lemon rind. The classic negroni is another tongue-curling example. The aperitif, made with herbal Campari, gin, and bittersweet rosso vermouth, has carved out a name for itself as one of the world’s most popular cocktails, only second to the American Old Fashioned.

Italy has successfully imported its love for bitter beverages around the globe, but it is time to look beyond the familiar. Branch out to the nation’s other amaroidal drinks the next time you find yourself at a bar during aperitivo hour. We guarantee that these are as satisfying as a negroni. Another perk: These are simple enough to make at home too, if you have guests you want to impress.

Americano

bitter italian cocktails americano
The Americano.

Recipe
1 part Campari
1 part red vermouth
Splash of soda water
Ice

Without the Americano, there would be no negroni. Just look at the composition of this ruby red drink, and you’d spot striking similarities to its successor. Where the negroni has gin, the Americano comes with soda water instead, giving it an effervescence and a lower ABV — the latter quality is ideal if you’ve planned for a long night.

Cynar Spritz

bitter italian cocktails cynar spritz
A Cynar Spritz.

Recipe
1 part soda water
2 parts Cynar
Prosecco
Ice

Cynar may look like a bottle of molasses, but this amaro is the opposite of syrupy sweet. As Campari’s obscure cousin, Cynar is a bitter liqueur made from 13 different herbs and botanicals — the most renowned addition being the artichoke. Don’t be put off yet. The thistle had a vegetal, bittersweet edge that makes Cynar a delightful way to drink your greens.

Cynar makes a great replacement for Aperol in a spritz, especially if you love Italian cocktails with a herbal character. You can even swap out the club soda for a citrus one to alleviate some of its bitterness. Grapefruit soda does particularly well on this front.

Garibaldi

bitter italian cocktails garibaldi
A Garibaldi.

Recipe
1 part Campari
1 part fresh orange juice
A dash of simple syrup
Ice

The next time you have brunch, dump the mimosa for a Garibaldi instead. Orange juice and champagne can take a backseat for one Sunday as you venture into new territory.

The Garibaldi has a foolproof recipe, but if you want to really take this Italian cocktail to the next level, pay attention to how you juice your oranges. Naren Young from New York’s aperitivo haven, Dante, popularised the Garibaldi by topping Campari with “fluffy” orange juice that makes the drink texturally intriguing — a technique easily replicated by whizzing the fruit through a high-speed juicer, which ensures the juice is aerated.

Hugo Spritz

bitter italian cocktails hugo
A Hugo Spritz.

Recipe
1 part elderflower concentrate
3 parts prosecco
Fresh mint
Ice

Up the alps in northeastern Italy, the Aperol spritz’s popularity gives way to the Hugo spritz, an elderflower, prosecco and mint medley that is as crisp as fresh mountain air.

The Hugo spritz is the least bitter of the collection we have here, but it remains as beguiling because elderflower cordial is used. The botanical has a musky, floral note that is incredibly delicate, playing off the dry prosecco like a dream.

Sbagliato

bitter italian cocktails hugo sbagliato
A Sbagliato.

Recipe
1 part Campari
1 part red vermouth
1 part Prosecco

Sbagliato is another riff off the negroni. Its name means “mistake”, alluding to the happy accident that led to its creation. A bartender in Milan wanted to make a negroni, but he mistook Prosecco for gin, and tossed it into the glass without a second thought. The customer didn’t call for a refund, and thus, the sbagliato went down in history.

The bubbles in Prosecco brings a liveliness to the cocktail, as it mutes the bitter slap of the Campari. Pour the cocktail over ice, or drink it in a wine glass without, and you’ll find yourself enjoying the perfect sundowner on a hot evening.

(Illustrations by Nadine Christmas)

Beatrice Bowers
Features Editor
Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.