While Italy is universally celebrated for its cuisine and wines, the peninsula is also one of the largest European producers and exporters of liquors, with a long tradition of local recipes that define the cultural diversity of each region and province. From mandatory post-meal digestives to fruity fortified wines and herbal liqueurs, consuming alcohol in Italy goes beyond the simple act of drinking. Every pour is associated with a precise social interaction to mark a moment of the day or even a specific season.
Although the most popular Italian liquors have become staples in bars and restaurants around the world, there is so much more to explore (and drink!) than Campari and Sambuca. We’ve rounded up four Italian liquors that you need to try and the best places to find them in Hong Kong.
Mirto is to Sardinia what beer is to Germany. If you have been lucky enough to visit this paradise of an island, then you know. You would have been handed a shot glass of Mirto at your arrival, and literally everywhere else. If you haven't been yet, perhaps you haven't heard of it yet. Obtained from the alcoholic maceration of the berries and leaves of the myrtle plant (mainly found in Southern Europe, North African and India), Mirto’s original recipe dates back to the eighteenth century and is deeply rooted in the Sardinian people’s tradition. While it is now industrially produced and distributed, many families and local restaurants still choose to home make it, following the long fermentation process.
Alcohol content: 28-34%
Where to find it: reinvention of a blackberry Collins with Mirto at 8 ½ Bombana
This reinvention of a classic Tom Collins is made to exalt the exceptional texture and strong aftertaste of Mirto, which is added to a mix of gin, lemon juice and sugar. 8 ½ Bombana is one of the very few places in Hong Kong – and Asia – where Mirto is directly imported from Sardinia, served as a digestive and used in cocktail preparations.
8 ½ Bombana, Shop 202, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road, Central 2537 8859,
Visciolata del Cardinale
While Visciolata del Cardinale is technically a dessert wine, the traditional habit of drinking it at the end of a meal in a small glass – much like grappa – makes us Italian's think of it as a digestive. Typically found in the region of Marche, Central Italy, it’s produced according to a nineteenth century family recipe, which mixes visciole (sour cherries), regional grapes and sugar to create the distinct cardinal red colour and the strong fruity aroma. It's very versatile, so you'll find it as an aperitif, a digestif and even in cocktails.
Alcohol content: 15%
Where to find it: Collector’s Item cocktail at Aqua Hong Kong
Visciolata del Cardine is mixed with lemon caster, sugar absinthe and egg white – which balances the sweetness – in this cocktail uniquely created to highlight the distinct fruity notes of the fortified wine. To add to the charm, it's also garnished with a bite of homemade Visciolata cheesecake.
Aqua Hong Kong, 29/30 F, 1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui 3427 2288,
Cynar is one of the most celebrated “amaro” in Italy. Its success lays in an impressive secret recipe that includes 13 herbs and plants mixed with artichoke extract. With a punchy bitter-sweet taste, the liqueur – originally created in Padua, Veneto – became widely popular throughout the 1960s as one of the symbols of economic miracle’s consumerist culture. Thanks to Cynar’s refreshing taste, it’s both consumed on the rocks as a digestive and mixed with very contrasting flavours in cocktails.
Alcohol Content: 16.5%
Where to find it: Cynar and watermelon juice highball at 208 Duecento Otto
To preserve its original herbal flavor, Cynar is just mixed with freshly pressed watermelon juice to add a hint of sweetness. The cocktail is part of 208’s selection of highballs, which includes a wide selection of Italian liqueurs mixed with pressed juices to exalt their distinctive taste.
208 DUECENTO OTTO, 208 Hollywood Road, Shueng Wan 2549 0208,
Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
Consumed as the aperitif par excellence in nineteenth century northern Italian elitist cafés, Vermouth went on to become one of the key ingredients of many classic cocktails. Carpano Antica Formula, which was first produced in 1786 by the Carpano family in Turin, is considered one of the oldest vermouths, and stands out for its unique vanilla notes. Made with white wines from the regions of Puglia, Sicily and Romagna and a secret blend of aromatic herbs, it is also recognisable for its citrusy and dried fruits notes.
Alcohol Content: 16.5%
Where to find it: Boulevard Rye cocktail at Pirata
Inspired by a classic Negroni, the cocktail combines Rye whiskey and smoky cinnamon and cloves with Carpano Antica Formula, which makes the drink sweeter thanks to its vanilla note. Pirata boosts an impressive selection of vermouths as Hong Kong’s only vermuteria.
Pirata Hong Kong, 239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai 2887 0270,