Distiller’s Italian Bitter Aperitivo GuideBy Stephanie Moreno
If you’ve been drinking in the US over the past ten years, you’ve no doubt noticed the increase in red bitter aperitivo bottles appearing on shelves. No longer are we limited to Campari and Aperol, which of course we’re still happy to partake in as well. But if you’re wanting to explore the category a bit, there is no better time than now.
Confusingly, the terms “bitter” and “aperitivo” can be used together or separately. But generally speaking if the bottle is labeled just as a bitter, it will have a higher alcohol content than those listed as an aperitivo. In fact there are several brands which make both types so make sure to check your labels when picking up a bottle.
Cocktails such as the Spritz and the Americano are good for when you’re wanting a low ABV drink. And when you’re looking for something a bit more spirited, the Negroni (and its many variations) are the go-to serve. Of course a simple serve on the rocks or with the bubbly of your choice is fine when you’ve no time to measure. But if you are in the mood to play mixologist, these bitter aperitivo brands play very well with more robust spirits like mezcal and agricole rhum. That’s in addition to your more typical gin and vodka creations.
We’ve got a few of our favorite bitter aperitivo brands below along with some production and ABV information. These are relatively inexpensive so feel free to pick up a couple of bottles when stocking your home bar.
Campari was created circa 1860 by a Lombardy-born man named Gaspare Campari. His namesake bitters creation was first known as Bitter all’usa d’Holanda and its ingredients have never been disclosed. But what the brand does tell us is that it’s “the result of an infusion of bitter herbs, aromatic plants, and fruit in alcohol and water.” The only other change to the original recipe occurred in 2006 when carmine (a natural dye sourced from crushed cochineal insects) ceased to be used for coloring. Now artificial colors are used. Notably, the ABV varies depending on where you buy it. In the US it is 24% ABV.
Aperol first debuted in 1919 and is known for its orange hue, and today for the ubiquitous and eponymous Aperol Spritz. It’s flavored with ingredients including cinchona, rhubarb and gentian. The bitter aperitivo has been a part of the Campari portfolio since 2003. It is bottled at a low 11% ABV.
Select Aperitivo is made using 30 botanicals with juniper berries and rhubarb root being the standouts. The red bittersweet liqueur was founded in 1920 and celebrated throughout Venice. The Original Venetian Spritz recipe calls for 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Select Aperitivo and 1 part soda and lots of ice. Garnish with a skewered green olive. This bitter aperitivo is bottled at 17.5% ABV.
Cappelletti Aperitivo is a wine-based, not spirit-based aperitivo made with garganega, pinot bianco and trebbiano wines. It is made just outside of Trento in Alto Adige at Antica Erboristeria Cappelletti which was established in 1909. As a Rosso Americano, it is a gentian infused red bitter aperitivo. It is bottled at 17% ABV and its red color is made naturally with traditional carmine (i.e. it is not vegan-friendly).
Contratto Aperitif is made using a recipe which dates back to 1935. The brand uses 28 herbs, spices, roots and seeds which are infused and blended into Italian grappa. These include aloe, angelica, wormwood, safflower, cinchona, bitter orange, sweet orange, lemon, mandarin, hawthorn, cloves, cardamom, licorice, juniper, mint, rhubarb, sage, nettle and ginger. It is naturally colored using carrot and beetroot extract and is bottled at 13.5% ABV.
For the brand’s Bitter Liqueur, this recipe dates back to 1933 and is made using 24 herbs, spices, roots, and seeds. These include aloe, bitter and sweet orange peels, cardamom, cloves, gentian root, ginger, hibiscus, mint, rhubarb, sage, and wormwood among others. These botanicals are cold-infused in Italian grappa. Also like the Aperitif bottling, its color is 100% natural from carrot and beetroot extract. It is bottled at 22% ABV.
Riserva Speciale Bitter joined the product family in summer 2017. Inspired by the brand’s original bitter recipe from 1872, the product was crafted to pair with Martini’s Riserva Speciale Vermouth Di Torino in cocktails. In addition to Italian artemisia, the three key botanicals are saffron, angostura and columba. It is bottled at 28.5% ABV.
This bitter aperitivo from Carpano is made with 10 aromatic herbs. These include cinchona, saffron, gentian, bitter orange peel, fresh orange green peel, myrrh, rhubarb, wormwood, sandal and zedoaria. It is bottled at 25% ABV.
The company is perhaps best known for its Maraschino Liqueur. But Luxardo also makes a variety of other liqueurs including this Aperitivo which was introduced in 2013. It is made using citrus, gentian, rhubarb and other herbs and is bottled at 11% ABV.
This is the higher proof bitter aperitivo from the brand which was first introduced in 1885. It’s made from an infusion of herbs, spices and citrus fruits such as mint, marjoram, thyme and bitter orange. Notably, the product is vegan-friendly and Kosher certified. It is bottled at 25% ABV.
This bitter aperitivo is made with a blend of three distillates: a sweet orange; a bitter orange; and a spice and herb infusion. In addition to the citrus, disclosed botanicals include gentian, coriander, clove and cinnamon. The brand gets its name from the year the Silvio Meletti Company was founded. It is bottled at 25% ABV.
This bitter aperitivo is made using a variety of infusions using Mediterranean citrus fruits including oranges, bergamots, bitter oranges, chinottos, tangerines, and grapefruit. Additionally, a touch of Galliano l’Autentico — the brand’s classic herbal liqueur featuring 30 herbs, spices and plant extracts — is added. Featured botanicals include anise, juniper, cardamom, sandalwood, sage, lavender, peppermint, cinnamon and vanilla. It is bottled at 24% ABV.
Ready to grab your own bottle of bitter aperitivo?
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