Italian drinks expert Giuseppe Gallo has unveiled Italicus, a new Italian aperitivo product with a very old heritage.
'I know a lot of people have expected me to make a vermouth, but I'm not that crazy!' announced the former global Martini ambassador at the launch in The Savoy's Beaufort Bar. 'I want to try to re-establish a forgotten category: rosolio. It was the original aperitivo. Italians were making their elixirs since 1200, but in the 1500s when sugar came from America, they added that to create rosolio.'
According to Gallo, rosolio used to be enjoyed as the main aperitivo by the King of Savoia and his court. In the late 18th century it was made all over Italy, with regional variations using the ingredients they specialised in: Amalfi's rosolio used lemons and Tuscany's used juniper, for instance.
At the start of the 19th century, King Vittorio Amedeo III saw an opportunity to solve the problem of a glut of white wine in Italy and banned the production of rosolio, incentivising farmers to produce vermouth instead. It was this that led to the decline of rosolio, which has almost disappeared from restaurants and bars.
'I wanted Italicus to be the quintessential expression of Italy, and I want to respect and follow tradition, but in the modern way,' declared Gallo.
Italicus is made at a family-owned distillery in Turin using a mixture of botanicals: bergamot from Calabria and cedro from Sicily are infused in cold water to release their essential oils in a process called sfumatura, before this is blended with Italian neutral grain spirit. Chamomile, lavender, gentian, yellow roses and melissa balm are all macerated together before being blended with the bergamot and cedro.
'What's the difference between rosolio and other aperitifs? This is the first liquid on the market to use brown sugar, as rosolio used to be made,' Gallo explained.
It can be drunk neat or mixed. Drunk neat, Italicus is light on its feet - there's a touch of bitterness from the gentian and plenty of other floral character from the lavender and roses, all atop a citrusy backbone. It's perfectly balanced between bitter and sweet, and the complexity certainly lends itself to simple serves.
The official serving suggestion is to mix it 50/50 with prosecco over ice and garnish with three olives, but Imbibe was particularly impressed with Simone Caporale's drink, mixing 50ml of Italicus with 25ml of fino sherry and two drops of orange bitters, served straight up.
Italicus will only be available to the on-trade for the time being, with distribution being handled by Speciality Drinks.
20% abv, £40, Speciality Drinks, 020 8838 9444