By Alma Beatrice
Drinking culture is something that each and every country has on its very own terms. In some countries, drinking is a matter of quantity and it is used generally to relax and take the stress away from a hard working days. Other countries have more of a gastronomic approach to drinking; treating it as a way to match meals or to enjoy the soft, mellow taste of rare and unique wines.
The British Way of Drinking
Here in Britain, the drinking culture is very much related to the Pub culture and the way we evaluate a night out for drinks. Often beer and alcohol is quite bland and not of the best quality and it is often drunk more for its inebriating effects than for its taste. It’s generally a question of quantity over quality! Obviously, one can never generalize; there are for sure many that prefer wine tasting to pub-crawling, but the tendency is certainly that of not worrying too much about exactly what is in the glass!
The Italian Way of Drinking
Other countries such as France and Italy have more of a selective and intelligent drinking culture dating back hundreds of years. Drinking in Italy is certainly a big part of the culture but in a positive way! Food and wine go hand in hand and an aperitivo or glass of wine is more a way of bonding over a relaxing meal with friends and family. Needless to say, there are certainly other types of drinkers in Italy, who prefer getting drunk on cheap wine rather than tasting the exceptional range of beers, wine and spirits that this country offers. Still, the general tendency is to be very much aware of what is being served and to drink local when it comes to wine and regional spirits, such as Grappa or Limoncello.
Most Italians will drink everyday but in fairly minimal quantities, so that it does not affect their normal, daily routine. That is why alcohol is not just a post-office treat, but rather a leitmotiv throughout the whole day starting early in the morning in some northern regions! It is generally always served alongside food of some kind.
Let’s look at a typical daily drinking routine for an Italian up and down the Boot:
Morning drinks – Caffe Corretto and Ombra – Veneto
In some regions, especially in the northern part of Italy, where the weather is slightly harsher, it is typical to consume Caffè Corretto in the morning. This is an espresso shot that has been “corrected” or adjusted with a shot of liqueur. In Veneto it is very popular to have a Caffè Corretto alla Grappa, a strong Italian grape spirit that is transparent and highly alcoholic. This comes from a tradition of Venetian workers to have a shot of alcoholic coffee to heat them up before going to work in the cold of the early morning. In many other regions of Italy you can have the same drink corrected with other types of liqueur such as Sambuca, Fernet or Brandy.
Another typical tipple in the Veneto region is known as an ‘ombra’ or shadow, acceptable at most times of the day, an ombra is a small glass of local wine accompanied by ‘Cichetti’ or small Venetian snacks.
Mid-morning Drinks/ Pre-Lunch Aperitivo – Campari/Bitter/Crodino – All Regions
There is a difference between mid-morning aperitivo and late afternoon aperitivo in Italy: the latter is more of an afternoon drink at the bar with friends which usually lasts a couple of hours, while the first is a short, pre-lunch drink you usually have at the bar, standing, with some colleagues or friends. Mid-morning aperitivo does not include too much food because you will be eating in less than an hour. The typical drink for the pre-lunch aperitivo is Campari: this is an alcoholic drink that comes in different flavours. You can also choose a non-alcoholic drink if you don’t fancy the strong stuff before lunch, such as Crodino, a beverage similar in taste to Campari. This mid-morning tradition can happen any day of the week but is particularly popular on a Sunday morning, when, before everyone goes to have the typical Sunday lunch with their families, they meet with their friends to have a quick drink and a chat.
Wine at Meals – All Regions
Italians usually have a glass of two of wine with their meals. The wine culture for Italians is very important. They will usually prefer cheaper, local wines in the respective regions, most of the time because the wine will come from a friend’s local farm or some organic wine maker they know. Wine is always carefully paired with the food that is being served. At lunch the glass of wine will probably be red while in the evening, if the meal includes a fishplate, they might have a chilled glass of white. Unless there is a crowd at lunchtime, they will rarely finish a whole bottle of wine, it is mostly one to maximum two glasses each.
Afternoon Aperitivo and Happy Hour – Milano
In the late afternoon, especially if it is at the end of a long working week, Italians will have a drink with a couple of friends. Usually they will sit at a local café where everybody knows each other and have an alcoholic drink. This can easily be one of the mid-morning drinks such as Campari or Bitter but at this time could also be a Spritz, a Martini with green olives or any long drink with some small savoury snacks to go with it. This is usually in the afternoon before dinner time but, on some occasions, Italians will completely substitute their dinner with an early drinking and eating formula called ‘Apericena’ where they will pay for their drinks and have the possibility to serve themselves some hot or cold snacks from a buffet. This special kind of aperitivo/dinner has become famous in Milano, where many people work until 6 or 7 pm and find it easy to have a drink and some food with colleagues, without having to go back home and fix themselves a dinner to eat alone.
After dinner/Late Night Drinks – All Regions
After dinner, it’s common to enjoy a ‘digestivo’, a drink that will help you digest your multi-course meal. There are some 350 types of ‘digestivi’ to choose from and many are strong herb infused concoctions known as ‘Amari’. Most families will have a selection of both sweet and bitter digestivi in the cupboard and most restaurants will offer a complimentary one at the end of your meal.
Later on a small shot of whisky or brandy may feature before bedtime. At weekends it is typical to go out with friends and have dinner or to see each other right after dinner for drinks or to go out dancing. Here Italians will have some long drinks or plain spirits or even a bottle of wine.
Whenever a celebration will take place, going to a bar and opening a bottle will always be the norm for an Italian. It is in the Italian drinking culture to have a drink and to share it with anyone who comes around, be it a graduation party, a wedding or a birthday.
So when you visit Italy, go with the flow, drink like a local – treat alcohol as Italians do, just as part of everyday life as it has been for thousands of years and not a means to an end!! Salute!
Images: Italian Drinks | Vorrei
Alma Beatrice is an avid food blogger, photographer, traveler and writes about various food related topics. She was born and raised in Verona, Italy now resides in Saffron Walden, UK. Her primary field of interests is food and lifestyle. She currently works with Vorrei, a family-run online Italian food shop selling delicious and healthy artisanal products In the UK.
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