Top 3 Italian Liquers

Italy’s liqueurs, aperitivi and digestivi are as diverse as the abundant variety of regional food and wine…


Averna Amaro

Perhaps the least well-known of our trio, this little gem deserves a wider audience. To look at, Averna is like a super-concentrated Campari and almost the same colour as Coca Cola. To taste, however, it’s nowhere nearly as bitter as its bright red northern cousin. It’s remarkably smooth with delightful burnt caramel flavours and warming spice on top of aromatic sage and rosemary. Produced in Sicily since the 1860s, it is a classic digestivo, and is traditionally served neat, or on the rocks, to round off a meal. But don’t let that put you off – why not try something longer like a Vertigo: four parts Averna, one part fresh lemon juice, topped up with ginger beer.

A retro drink that’s made something of a comeback, this bright red liqueur is made from a secret blend of aromatic herbs steeped in alcohol. It is from the family of drinks known as bitters, and while you can enjoy it neat, some people find it too overwhelming to drink straight. With the taste of orange to the fore, you could argue that it works better as a cordial. Serve it long with grapefruit juice or with soda or tonic water over ice and a slice of lime. With sparkling wine, it offers a sophisticated challenge to the fruitier Venetian Bellini. Simply top it up with your mixer of choice for a refreshing way to pass a sunny afternoon.


This is a serious tipple, with its bitter, slightly ‘medicinal’ taste and dark colouring, made from the infusion of numerous ingredients – what’s in it is anyone’s guess but urban legend suggests coca leaf, wormwood and codeine as three unlikely constituents – although the exact recipe remains a closely guarded secret. It’s best consumed straight after a meal, as it’s an effective aid to digestion, but it can also be used to give a little kick to espresso coffee. It’s full spirit strength, too, at a hefty 40 per cent ABV, so serve it in a small shot glass rather than a tumbler.