Postcards from Italy

Italy’s Classic Cocktails: Negroni and Spritz

With the seemingly endless list of holidays celebrating iconic Italian foods—think pastapizza,tiramisù, and even Nutella —it’s easy to lose track, which is why we were caught a bit off-guard by the news that Negroni Week was celebrated recently! The Negroni is one of Italy’s most iconic cocktails, which, after spending decades beloved domestically but relatively unknown outside of Italy, has exploded onto the international cocktail scene along with another Italian favorite, the Spritz.

We love these two aperitivo classics, so much so that our Instagram handle is @NegroniandSpritz, and will be raising a glass and cooling off this July 4th weekend with a Negroni and Spritz. Cin cin!

The Negroni


(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

As a nod to June’s Negroni Week, we’ll begin with this simple mix three-ingredient cocktail served with a twist of orange.

The Negroni is built around Campari as its foundation, stirred with equal parts gin and sweet vermouth directly in an Old-Fashioned glass on the rocks (the more common presentation) or pre-stirred and served in a coupe Champagne glass (in more upscale versions). The Campari base gives this cocktail its uniquely bitter flavour, which is probably why it took awhile to catch on outside of Italy, where cocktails often lean more toward the sweet.

Campari is one of Italy’s most famous bitter aperitivo drinks, invented by Gaspare Campari himself in 1860. It is a bright crimson shade that was achieved using cochineal die (yes, the insect) until 2006, and has an alcohol content of over 20 percent, making the Negroni a decisively spirit-forward drink. If you can get past the bitterness, you’ll find a subtle orange sweetness and herb and spice flavors lurking behind. To balance the complexity of the Campari, experts recommend using a straightforward London dry gin, and a classic sweet vermouth to cut its bitterness.

There is much debate as to the origins of the Negroni, but the most compelling version is that it was invented at the beginning of the 20th century by Camillo Negroni, an Italian count who spend decades in the American west. Once he returned to Florence, he found the traditional Americano cocktail too weak (more on that below) and added gin to kick it up a notch. Thus the Negroni was born.

There are two common variations of the Negroni that you can order in any Italian bar:

The Americano: If we are to believe the origin story above, the Negroni is actually a variation of the Americano and not the other way around. The Americano is said to have originated at Gaspare Campari’s bar in Milan in the 1860s, and may have earned its name due to its popularity among American tourists. It’s made with Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda water substituting for gin, making it a bit less alcoholic than the classic Negroni.

The Negroni Sbagliato: The charmingly named Negroni Sbagliato (or messed up Negroni) was inadvertently invented in Milan’s Bar Basso, when a bartender added sparkling wine rather than gin to a Negroni by mistake. The result was so refreshing that it became a popular variation on the classic, its bubbles making it particularly light and refreshing.

The Spritz


(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

This lighthearted cocktail is perhaps the most common aperitivo staple, and the rise in popularity of one of its main ingredients has helped the mixed drink gain traction, as well.

Where the Negroni is built around Campari, the Spritz (sometimes called the Aperol Spritz) rests on the laurels of the Campari brand’s other popular aperitif, Aperol. The Spritz is made by mixing Aperol, Prosecco, and club soda in a 3-2-1 ratio directly in a large glass over the rocks and serving it with a twist of orange. The Aperol, considered Campari’s more subtle cousin, makes the cocktail slightly bitter, but lighter and more approachable in flavor than the Negroni, while the bubbles of the Prosecco and club soda give it a festive fizz.

Aperol is different than Campari in a few ways, created half a century later by brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri in Padua as a lighter alternative to Campari with a bright orange hue to reflect its main flavor and about half its alcohol content. That said, the two classic aperitifs are also close cousins, sharing flavour that pairs the sweetness of oranges with the bitterness of herbs. In Campari, the herbs win but in Aperol the orange takes the lead, and mixed with a crisp Prosecco and a splash of bubbly soda water, it makes for the perfect summer drink.

The Aperol Spritz is the unofficial cocktail of Milan, but was probably inspired by the tradition of mixing white wine and soda water in Venice. Though it became popular in Italy in the 1950s, its international explosion has followed the skyrocketing trajectory of the popularity of Prosecco and everything Prosecco-related.

There are three common variations of the Spritz that you can order in any Italian bar:

The Campari Spritz: This variation has become so popular that when ordering a Spritz you will often be asked if you want an Aperol Spritz or a Campari Spritz. As the name suggests, this simply switches out the Aperol for the stronger Campari.
The Austrian Spritz: The mother of the Aperol Spritz, this is a mix of white wine and sparkling water traditionally served in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
The Venetian Spritz: This is made with equal parts of white wine, Campari, and soda water served over ice and garnished with a slice of orange and an olive. The still wine makes it a more sober but very similar-tasting variation.

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore