Today, you can find a Negroni in nearly every corner of the world; the Italian classics are everywhere. But hidden behind those signature bittersweet drinks are the country’s lesser-known contributions to the cocktail canon, which span neon blue disco drinks to steaming coffee cocktails to Italy’s answer to the Long Island Iced Tea.
Perhaps, like the Sbagliato, these recipes are just waiting for their chance in the spotlight. To dive deeper into some of the country’s best kept secrets, here are seven of the other Italian classics to try.
Part of the Negroni's expansive family tree, the Cardinale has yet to take off in the same way that the Sbagliato has. The mid-century drink was first served for a visiting cardinal in Rome in 1950 (hence the name) and originally comprised an ounce of gin, half ounce of dry Moselle wine and third ounce of Campari. Today, it’s most commonly served as an equal-parts cocktail, with the wine swapped out for dry vermouth. At New York bar Dante, Naren Young’s take “looks light, dainty and somewhat innocent, but because of the dry vermouth, it’s much more austere and bone-dry,” he says. At older bars in southern and central Italy, however, it’s possible to find the Negroni riff served tall and sparkling, courtesy of Campari Soda and bitter orangeade.
A neon-colored club drink typically served in an oversized Martini glass, the Angelo Azzurro was an Italian nightlife staple in the 1980s and ’90s. Interestingly, there are no Italian ingredients in the Naples-born drink, whose ingredients include London dry gin, triple sec and blue Curaçao. Mirroring the Cosmopolitan in the U.S., which saw an explosion in popularity, then dismissal, then resurgence, the disco drink has been revisited in recent years, perhaps poised for a full comeback.
Ponce alla Livornese is Italy’s answer to punch. But unlike traditional punch, Livorno Punch swaps the tea element for coffee, specifically espresso, resulting in a bolder formula that feels right at home alongside the canon of modern coffee cocktails, from caffè corretto to Espresso Martinis. The 400-year-old drink's origins lie along the Tuscan coast, at a 17th-century hub for English sailors who brought their love for punch along with them on their trade routes. While the combination of espresso, sugar, lemon peel and rumme (an imitation rum made from a neutral spirit and spices) was born in Livorno, today, not many bars there still serve the drink. Luckily, it’s easy to make at home by using spiced rum, as in Roman bartender Manuel Di Cecco’s recipe.
Did you know that Italy had its own Long Island Iced Tea? While the Angelo Azzuro’s allure lies in its cerulean hue, the Invisibile took a more understated approach. That is, at least, visually—the club drink is a hard-hitting combination of unaged rum, gin, vodka and triple sec, often poured into a plastic pint glass. Because of its crystal clear composition, the cocktail is also known as “Quattro Bianchi,” or “four whites” in Italian. Alessandro Tambaro, a trainer at an Abruzzo-based bartending school, describes it as "a monster of a cocktail," so it may come as a surprise that Italians are taking a second look at the forgotten 1970s drink. Marianna De Leo, for example, skews the balance of the spec in her take, which puts tequila at the base, complemented by a smaller measure of mezcal and gin and brightened with triple sec and a strawberry cordial.
Summer in Italy is about more than spritzes. Enter: the Sgroppino. Simply bringing together slushy sorbetto, grappa or vodka and effervescent sgropin (local prosecco, in Venetian dialect), the frozen drink contains multitudes. Though it’s typically served as a palate cleanser between courses, a few simple changes can transform the dessert into an all-day affair. Fanny Chu’s Watermelon Sgroppino, for example, takes a smoky-sweet turn thanks to mezcal, but can be altered with your spirit of choice. Stacey Swenson’s Passionfruit Sgroppino, meanwhile, puts a seasonal spin on the drink and makes it aperitivo-ready with a dose of Contratto. If the original lemony style calls your name, try the classic version served at New York’s Alta Linea or the extra-citrusy Lemony Snicker from Karen Fu, who calls in layers of citrus, from yuzu-inflected Japanese gin to meyer lemon juice to fizzy lemon-lime soda.
According to Punch contributor Brad Thomas Parsons, when Naren Young first came across the Giostra d'Alcol (the "carousel of alcohol"), his response was, "Never heard of it. Should we try one?" The 1930s-born cocktail was created not by a bartender but instead by painter and sculptor Enrico Prampolini and described in the book Futurist Mixology by Fulvio Piccinino. Originally a mix of Campari, Barbera d'Asti wine and citrus soda, Young found the original recipe fairly dry and bitter and incorporated a barspoon of honey syrup in his take. Though Prampolini’s recipe calls for skewers of hard cheese and bitter chocolate, Young instead opts for an orange slice garnish.