Italian digestif drinks: what they are and how to get these delicious Italian after dinner drinks at home.
After a traditional Italian meal or dinner you are likely to be offered a ‘digestivo’ aka an Italian digestive drink (digestif).
Italian digestivo are alcoholic after dinner drinks, usually served in a small glass, straight, as a shot.
Like the name suggests, they are meant to aid digestion after a substantial meal (digestivo in Italian means ‘digestive’).
They come in several types, some sweet some bitter.
These are the most popular types of Italian digestive drinks they are very different from each other so if you don’t know which one is best for you, you simply have to try them all!
Fun fact! After dinner drinks in Italy are offered after coffee, so that they are the last taste to linger in your mouth. This is why they are sometimes called ‘ammazzacaffe” = coffee killer!
Please note: these are liquor, some with high alcoholic content – consume responsibly.
Italian digestif drinks chart
|Name||Type||Alcohol grade||Region of Origin|
|Limoncello||Sweet lemon based liquor||38||Campania|
|Sambuca||Anise-based liquor||40||Campania / Lazio (see below)|
|Mirto||Myrtle-based herbal liquor||30||Sardinia|
|Amaro||Bitter after dinner liquor||15+ (up to 40 depending on brand)||Several regions depending on brand|
|Fernet Branca||Bitter after dinner digestif, a type of ‘amaro’||28||Lombardy|
Popular Italian digestive drinks
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Limoncello – lemon bases sweet Italian after dinner drink
Limoncello is maybe the best internationally known Italian digestif and one of the most loved.
Born in Campania and still vastly produced in the area, it is made with the lemon peel of the delicious local lemons (strictly limone di Sorrento or sfusato amalfitano) and has a distinct bright yellow appearance.
Sweet and strong, it is an after dinner favorite in Italy and abroad.
Sambuca – anise based Italian digestive drink
Sambuca is a clear, alcoholic anise based liquor with ancient roots.
Sambuca as we know it today was created by Luigi Manzi in 1851: Manzi was from Ischia, in Campania, but set up production in Civitavecchia, in Lazio, hence a sort of double geographical paternity.
The most famous brand for the production of Italian sambuca is Molinari: its creator worked with Manzi in Civitavecchia and then created his own version of the liquor, which he then exported, with huge success.
Sambuca is often served with one or two coffee beans: when chewed, they enhanced its taste!
You can get sambuca online here for a nice gift to Italian food lovers who know their drinks!
Mirto – delicious Italian digestif from Sardinia
Mirto di Sardegna is an Italian digestif deriving its name from the mirto plan (myrtle) from which it is made.
The regional origin of this drink are crucial to its creation and taste.
Only Sardinian mirto berries can be used to make it and several parameters must be respected for the liquor to be allowed to use the denomination ‘Mirto di Sardegna’.
Amaro – all you need to know about the most popular Italian after dinner drinks
Amaro or I should say amari (plural, in English also called ‘amaros’) are bitter drinks with an alcohol gradation of 15 degrees plus (Up to 40, 15 is the minumum to qualify for the name ‘amaro’).
Some of the most popular amaro brands in Italy are.
- Amaro del Capo – from Calabria, this amatro mixes almost 30 different herbs, roots and flowers from the region of Calabria and it is popular on its own but an unexpected base for cocktails
- Amaro Averna – amaro liquor from Caltanissetta (Sicily), first produced in 1868. The popular TV commercial for this liquor is still a classic ‘Amaro Averna: scalda il cuore, col gusto pieno della vita‘ (lit. warms your heart with the full taste of life)
You can get it online here
- Amaro Lucano – amaro liquor from Basilicata, it takes its name from its land of origin, ancient Lucania, produced since 1894. The popular TV ad is a classic that goes ‘E cosa vuoi di piu’ dalla vita? Un Lucano!’ (Lit. What else you can ask for, in life? A lucano’)
- Amaro Montenegro – amaro liquor from Bologna, this is a popular bitter Italian digestif produced since 1885. The popular spot goes ‘Amaro Montenegro: sapore vero’ (Amaro Montenegro: True taste)
- Cynar – brand name of a popular type of amaro made from artichokes, still proudly present on the distinctive label of this popular amaro.
Fernet Branca is the brand name of an Italian fernet, a type of amaro. This is one of the most popular after dinner drinks and was born in Milan in 1845.
Strega Liquor is an after dinner liquor born in Benevento (Campania) a city known for its witches (in Italian: streghe), to which this drink owes its name.
The liquor dates back to the 1980s and it is made with over 70 varieties of herbs and plants.
It has a bright yellow, transparent color and it is served as a digestive drink after dinner or used in baking specific desserts such as crostata beneventana.
Other Italian after dinner drinks worth trying
The habit of offering a small glass of alcohol at the end of the meal doesn’t stop with proper digestive drinks and it not uncommon in Italy to get offered other wines and liquors to finish your meal.
Two popular ones are Vin Santo and grappa: while they do not seem to have actual digestive properties, they are popular and widespread especially in their regions of origin.
Vin Santo – Tuscany sweet wine for after dinner
Vin Santo is a sweet, strong Italian dessert wine especially popular in Tuscany but also in part of Lazio, Emilia Romagna and Umbria.
Unlike other digestif and after dinner drinks in this list ,Vin Santo doesn’t usually get served on its own but rather with cantucci or tozzetti, hard biscuits with almonds made for dunking.
Vin Santo is a dessert wine rather than a digestive drink, strictly speaking, but since it is served after dinner and usually in alternative to an amaro, it makes this list!
Grappa is an Italian distilled liquor with clear, transparent color and high alcoholic grade (40+).
It is made of vinaccia, what is left after pressing grapes to make wine and it is typical of the Northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta, Lombardy, Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Some popular and good grappa brands in Italy are Grappa Nonino, Grappa Mazzetti d’Altavilla, Grappa Elisi (Berta distilleries), Grappa Rubinia Gualco, Bepi Tosolini.
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