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The History and Allure of the Americano Cocktail

In her new book, Signature Cocktails, Amanda Schuster traces the storied history of the classic Italian cocktail, the Americano.

Americano cocktail

An Americano cocktail. Photo: © 2023 by Andy Sewell. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.

In her new book, Signature Cocktails, from Phaidon, Amanda Schuster tracks the history of 200 classic drinks like the Americano. Here is an excerpt from the book, available now.

Think of an Americano as the “little red dress” of bittersweet aperitivo cocktails. It can be dressed up with other “jewels” (spirits), but on its own is still elegant in its sleek simplicity. It is a combination of Italian aperitivo, a digestive bitter liqueur with a tawny-orange hue, red Italian vermouth, and seltzer or club soda, served in a tall glass over ice with an orange or lemon twist.

The Americano rose to popularity in Milan in the late 1880s as an offshoot of the Torino Milano, a combination of Turin’s local vermouth and Campari from Milan served at the Campari bar and, eventually, other cafés. American tourists preferred a highball serve to tone down the bitters, but the Italians soon caught on to its refreshment. The Americano is considered the first known thread between traditional Italian aperitivo drinking culture and American bartending.

The Americano was famously the canvas upon which the ever-popular Negroni was created. Legend has it that in 1918, weary of bubbles and thirsty for something more high octane, Count Camillo Negroni returned to Milan from North America and requested bartender Fosco Scarselli at Bar Casoni make him an Americano, but hold the soda, booze it up with gin. And thus, the Americano mothered the Negroni.

Signature Cocktails book cover
Signature Cocktails is available from Oct. 5.

The Americano continued to be popular throughout Italy and abroad, particularly through the Swinging Sixties. While it faded from fashion for some time, and was more recently upstaged by the Negroni, the Americano is still valued for its chic straight-forwardness and adaptability, particularly when showcasing a new swath of aperitivo and/or bitter liqueur brands and vermouths now available in the marketplace, either as a traditional serve or in more intricate spritz interpretations. Many bars around the world even serve house Americanos on tap.

YEAR: 1880s

ORIGIN: Milan, Italy

INVENTOR: Gaspare Campari

PREMISES: Campari Bar

ALCOHOL TYPE: Campari; Vermouth

GLASSWARE: Highball

The Americano Cocktail

The Americano Cocktail

Recipe by Amanda Schuster
0.0 from 0 votes
Servings

4

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

40

minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 oz. 1/2 45 ml) red vermouth (Italian for authenticity)

  • 1/2 oz 1/2 (45 ml) Campari or other Italian-style aperitivo

  • Soda water, to top

  • Garnish: orange wedge

Directions

  • Combine the vermouth and aperitivo in a tall or double rocks glass and stir.
  • Add ice, top with soda water, and stir again.
  • Garnish with an orange wedge.

Notes

  • Excerpted from Signature Cocktails © 2023 by Amanda Schuster. Photography © 2023 by Andy Sewell. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.

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