A guide to the Italian digestif

Adam Jones | 10/02/2020
Limoncello. Italian drink. After dinner drink.
Limoncello, after-dinner digestivo

Whether you're taking a train from Rome to Naples or Venice to Monterosso, wherever you end up in Italy you will be exposed to delicious food traditions. The meal is a time to relax, eat at leisure, and to enjoy the company around you. This includes ample time to enjoy yourself after you’ve completed your dinner, chatting with friends and enjoying an Italian digestif or ‘digestivo.’

Simply put, the Italian digestif or digestivo is an alcoholic drink served after dinner to help with digestion. This type of Italian liquor is different than some of the more commonly known classic Italian cocktails like the Campari Spritz. These are aperitivo, or drinks meant to stimulate your appetite. 

Let’s take a look at the different types of Italian digestif so you know what to request after one of Italy’s famously delicious meals.

Italian digestif: Amaro

Not simply a drink on its own, amaro is a term used for a whole category of drinks. These tend to be bittersweet herbal liqueurs with a longstanding place in Italian culture. Amaro goes back to ancient Rome when the nobles and the wealthy would sip it for its restorative qualities. It is usually made by macerating alcohol with various herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and citrus peels. There are hundreds of variations of Amaro, but they all contain between 16-40% alcohol. 

Italian digestif: Fernet Branca

With the recent renaissance in traditional cocktails, Fernet Branca might sound familiar, but not many outside Italy drink it on its own. Invented in Milan in 1845, it has a quite bitter, medicinal flavor. Fernet Branca also makes a slightly sweeter mintier version called Branca Menta. If you enjoy something with a strong mint flavor you might prefer to go with an order of Branca Menta instead.

Italian digestif: Limoncello

What is more Italian than this lemon liqueur from the Amalfi Coast? It’s perfect in warm weather since it can be drunk ice cold or at room temperature. Made from steeping Sorrento lemon peels in spirits, then mixing with a simple syrup, limoncello is a popular choice across Italy. Often an ingredient in Italian desserts, lemoncello is also a frequent addition to many types of Italian cocktails. This might include some of its many variants including those flavored with pistachio nuts, cantaloupe, oranges, or strawberries.

Italian digestif: Passito

This sweet dessert wine is made from grapes that have been partially dehydrated to concentrate their flavors. It is a similar process used to make ice wine, but one more suitable to warm climates. If you enjoy a drink that’s rich, sweet, and concentrated, a passito might be the way to go instead of some of the other, more bitter, herbal digestivos.

Italian digestif: Strega

This digestivo is one of the most colorfully named Italian drinks - strega is Italian for ‘witch.’ This yellow liqueur originates from Benevento, Campania, a city in Italy famous for its many legends about witches. The distinctive yellow color comes from saffron, although it contains a whopping 70 ingredients. Usually drunk on its own, strega has a sweet herbal taste with echoes of mint and fennel. 

Now you’ll be able to order something to your own taste once you’ve finished your meal in Italy. We hope you enjoy the excellent company. Salute!

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