In Depth

Italicus leads the rosolio revival

Salute! A new incarnation of the Italian aperitivo is stirring things up in bars and restaurants across London

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With the cocktail industry hungry to rediscover obscure victuals, rosolio – the long-forgotten, original Italian aperitivo that predates Campari and Aperol and was quaffed by kings – is enjoying a revival in some of London's best cocktail bars, from Chiltern Firehouse to Claridge's.

Hugely popular until the beginning of the 1800s, rosolio is a distilled liqueur once prepared in traditional apothecaries with precious herbs, fruits and spices. It fell from favour in court when Vittorio Amedeo III incentivised farmers to make white wine and vermouth instead and cancelled his order of rosolio to the royal household.

A slow, cold extraction of Calabrian bergamot is key to rosolio, says Giuseppe Gallo, an Italian spirits expert and former global ambassador for Martini, who is now intent on re-establishing this neglected drink to its rightful place in the modern cocktail cabinet. To that end, he has created Italicus, inspired by memories of making rosolio with his own family, and set up production at a distillery established in 1906 in Turin. It is made in small batches to maintain authenticity and features key ingredients showcasing the best of the Italian regions: cedro from Sicily; chamomile from Lazio, and lavender, yellow roses and gentian from Piedmont. Even the bottle design embodies Italy, with classical Roman pillars forming the shape of the bottle and a black-and-white pattern emulating the Renaissance Basilica of Santa Maria Novella adorning the top.

Italicus mixed with prosecco makes an elegant spritz, it adds extra complexity to a gin and tonic or a negroni bianco and is proving a refreshing inspiration for creating new cocktails, such as Sartoria's Savile Row, with fino, Italicus and orange bitters mixed to a distinctive resonance. Italicus is fast becoming an enticing culinary ingredient, too, and a welcome winter shot of the Mediterranean. At Covent Garden's Bungatini, it delicately enhances sea bass carpaccio with pomegranate and fennel cress. No wonder the first batch sold out completely.

£29.95; thedrinkshop.com

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