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Italians love their digestivi, after-dinner liqueurs made from herbs, nuts, fruits, and even vegetables that are steeped in alcohol, strained, and often combined with other spices and herbs. They supposedly help with digestion after a big meal (hence the name), but mostly they’re just a delicious capper to your dining experience. There are many commercial digestivi available, such as the famous limoncello, but more regional specialties tend to be homemade, the recipes passed down from generation to generation. If you’ve got an Italy trip in the works, keep and eye out for these five unexpected liqueurs: They’re best sampled when dispensed by a grandmotherly type at a family-run trattoria, but you might also find them at smaller restaurants and bars.




Hailing from the northern city of Modena, dark-brown nocino is made from green walnuts, which according to tradition should be gathered on St. John’s Day, June 24. After steeping in alcohol with lemon zest, cloves and cinnamon for a couple of months, the concoction is strained. Some recipes call for combining it with a syrup made from red wine boiled with sugar, while others add coffee beans or fir tips to the soaking liquid. The result is sweet, complex and woodsy—autumn in a glass.

Related: The 10 least visited countries in Europe, and why you should visit them all.

Mirto liqueur | Licensed via Commons

Mirto liqueur | Licensed via Commons


Sardinian cuisine is defined by the distinctive flavor of the wild herbs and native plants on this island. Among the bounty of flora are dark blue myrtleberries, which have long been rumored to have medicinal properties. Whether that is true or not, mirto liqueur is a singular (and ubiquitous) Sardinian drinking experience. The recipe is simple—the berries are gathered in the wild (preferably as an event with friends and family) and sit in a vessel with alcohol or brandy for several months, after which sugar or honey is added.

italian liqueurs-rosolio


This rose-petal cordial dates back to 15th century northern Italy, but today it’s known primarily as a specialty of the far southern regions and Sicily. A typical traditional recipe calls for picking rose petals at the hottest hour on a summer day for maximum flavor, from which the white parts at the bottom are painstakingly removed, lest they make the final result bitter. The petals are then steeped in alcohol and blended with simple syrup after a few months. In Sicily, it is served at family celebrations and especially weddings as a gesture of good luck. Rosolio (or plural, rosoli) has also become a catchall term for similar aromatic digestivi, even if they don’t include roses as an ingredient.

Related: 7 totally weird ways to get arrested in Europe.

Italian liqueur- Alloro

Alloro | Flickr CC credit: macguys


Not just a symbol of glory, laurel leaves (alloro in Italian) are known for their digestive and anti-inflammatory properties, making them a natural choice for a postprandial treat. As in other recipes, the leaves are distilled in alcohol and sugar is added after a few months. The resulting liqueur can be bright green, brown or even almost black, depending on the type and freshness of the leaves. Italians can and do make liqueurs out of many different herbs, including rosemary, tarragon, or basil, or a combination, to which ingredients like orange peel and various spices may be added.

Italian liqueurs-vov

Photo courtesy of Grazia


Finally, there’s vov, which is technically not a digestivo, but it fulfills the same after-dinner role as its herbal and fruity cousins. The name makes it sound like Slavic moonshine, but in fact vov is closer to eggnog. Vov was supposedly originally invented to use up the egg yolks left over from making torrone, a northern Italian nougat candy. (Vovi means “eggs” in Venetian dialect.) Warmed milk and cream are combined withwhipped yolks, Marsala wine and grain alcohol. Other Italian regions have their own variations ­– a Tuscan version made with Cognac is called “hen’s milk.”

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Tagged: Europe

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Heather Kenny

Heather Kenny

Heather is a Chicago writer with a serious travel jones. She draws comics occasionally, blogs sporadically, and tweets quite often at @heatherkenny.

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