aperitivo in Italy guide - best drinks and spots
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Learn About Aperitivo In Italy – The History, The Culture, The Most Classic Italian Pre-Dinner Drinks & How To Recreate It At Home

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The ritual of aperitivo – enjoying an Italian drink or glass of wine with appetizers before dinner – has become a quintessential part of Italian culture and tradition. More than just stimulating your appetite for the upcoming meal, aperitivo is a chilled-out way to connect with friends and immerse yourself in Italian life. Whether you’re ordering an aperitivo in Italy or looking to host your taste of this iconic pre-dinner custom at home, read on to master the foundations.



What is Aperitivo? – Aperitivo Meaning

Let’s kick off our aperitivo learning journey by understanding the meaning and learning how to say it. We’ll also look at what’s not an aperitivo.

Aperitivo from the Latin Aperire

The word aperitivo comes from the Latin word ‘aperire’, which means to open, or aprire in Italian. And that’s exactly what the intent of the aperitivo is to open and stimulate the appetite.


aperitivo in Italy guide - best drinks and spots

Aperitivo Meaning

Let’s now look at the aperitivo meaning in English.

Oxford Languages defines Aperitivo as follows:

“an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite”.

This gives you a hint to the time of the day when aperitivo is mostly enjoyed, as well as the taste preferences. We’ll look into these and more throughout this article.


Aperitivo Translation

Now that we know the meaning, I want to clear up any confusion around this word. Aperitivo translates to aperitif in English. The definition I gave you above it’s the same for both aperitivo and aperitif, the only thing that changes is the language in which it is given.


Aperitif vs Aperitivo

You now know that these are the same, just use aperitivo in Italy or an Italian setting. You can use aperitif outside Italy, but I would suggest you use aperitivo since you know the word. After all, that’s the original term for this custom and I assure you that any bar or restaurant will understand what you mean.


Aperitivo Pronunciation

If you are going to use the Italian word in all the settings, we better practice it well, don’t we?

Start by listening to me saying it, and then repeat a few times yourself. How about 10 times to start with?

Aperitivo pronunciation


Aperitivo is Not Digestivo

Many outside Italy confuse aperitivo with digestivo. They are not the same.

I think the confusion comes from definitions like this one:

“drink, especially an alcoholic one, drunk before or after a meal to aid the digestion.”

That definition belongs to Oxford languages but I am sure many other dictionaries have a similar one.

That definition might be correct in the fact that a digestive drink can be enjoyed before or after a meal to help with digestion. However, culturally Italians tend to enjoy it at the end of a meal.

The Italian Wikipedia has a definition that matches people’s customs. Have a look.

“Un digestivo è una bevanda, tipicamente alcolica, che può essere bevuta al termine di uno dei pasti principali – di norma la cena, oppure un pranzo abbondante – per facilitare la digestione.”

Now you know the two are not the same. Yet, they do share something in common. Their origin was health-related. 

Whoever invented aperitivo, more on that in a minute, wanted to help people with a lack of appetite by giving them something that could stimulate their taste buds – papille gustative – as we call them in Italian. Similarly, the inventor of digestivo wanted to aid people with indigestion.



aperitivo in Italy

Things To Know About Italian Aperitivo

Italian Aperitivo Culture

An aperitivo in Italy is a pre-dinner drink that is usually enjoyed in the late afternoon or early evening. It represents a leisurely moment to socialize with friends over a drink and small bites.

Italians typically enjoy aperitivo starting around 6 or 7 pm until about 9 pm, as they tend to eat dinner later, around 8 to 9 pm. Popular locations are bars, cafes, and piazzas.

Closely tied to the Italian Dolce Vita concept, Italians don’t like following strict rules when it comes to pleasure. So don’t be surprised to see a city full of people enjoying aperitivo at every corner since 11 am. Many of them might be tourists but many others are Italians enjoying a leisurely drink while on holiday or during their day off. Others might be socializing with their colleagues or maybe having a business meeting at the local bar.

Whatever the excuse or the time of an aperitivo, there’s one important concept to understand. Aperitivo is yet another Italian moment for living the dolce vita, slowing down, making time for you and your pleasure, socializing, watching time and people pass by, and taking life more mindfully and at a relaxed pace.


aperitivo food

Italian Aperitivo Food

Aperitivo drinks are usually accompanied by small food items like olives, nuts, cheeses, cured meats, and fried snacks. The food is often free or included at a fixed price with the drink order.

Some popular aperitivo bites are bruschetta, crostini, small arancini, and tramezzini sandwiches. Anything tasty that is also easy to eat while standing and mingling is a great aperitivo food.

As you might imagine, the type of aperitivo food served varies from region to region. We’ll discuss later the most popular aperitivo snacks across Italy.


Aperitivo Styles

There are a few common aperitivo formats in Italy:

Apericena means “aperitif dinner.” It’s an abundant buffet spread allowing you to make a full meal out of the aperitivo.


Aperitivo vs Happy Hour

Happy hour usually refers to discounted drink prices for a certain period. Aperitivo focuses more on the leisurely Italian habit of enjoying a drink with snack food after work and pre-dinner. So don’t expect the aperitivo drinks or food to be always discounted. They might be in certain places, while in others you’ll get an offer that includes the food with the drink. In more upscale settings, expect higher prices and no discounts or very little to no free food.


Sitting vs Standing Aperitivo

If sitting at a table, expect to pay a small table service fee. Standing to mingle is more casual and cheaper. But rules vary across Italy, so check first about table fees to avoid surprise charges.



aperitivo liquors

History of Aperitivo

Aperitivo is a very old custom that was born as a health aid. It later became the tasty social activity we know today. 

When I say old I really mean old. Aperitivo has at least 2000 years of history behind it. Doctors in ancient Greece, used to prescribe it to their patients. One of the most famous physicians to do so was Hippocrates, who used to make his aperitivo and give it to his patients who were suffering from a lack of appetite.

His recipe involved mixing a sweet white wine with dittany’s flowers, rue, and absinthe. This concoction was referred to as Vinum Hippocratum. 

Later, the Romans took inspiration from these Greeks’ customs and started experimenting with herbs. They discovered that those bitter herbs were the true appetite stimulants. And so they made their version of aperitivo. They called it Vinum Absinthiatum.


Oldest Italian Aperitivo Drink

The use of bitter herbs to make pre-meal and post-meal drinks became more and more popular, so much so that these started being enjoyed as leisurely drinks rather than just prescriptions.

Wine & liquor shops became sought after, not only by physicians but also by the general public.

Antonio Benedetto Carpano, a wine & liquor owner shopkeeper from Turin, came up with the recipe for the first popular commercialized aperitivo/liquor. That drink was the Vermouth, an aromatized fortified wine made with mugwort and other botanical herbs. 

That important event in 1796, marked the beginning of the Aperitivo Customs. Even Re Vittorio Emanuele II approved of the drink and made it the official court aperitivo. 

Important figures in Italian history and literature, such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, Cavour, and Verdi, appreciated and helped popularize the drink further.

So the answer to the question of what’s the oldest aperitivo in Italy is Vermouth. 

Another drink that followed was Amaro Ramazzotti, invented in 1815 in Milan by a man named Ramazzotti. This was the drink that marked the birth and spread of the aperitivo culture in Milan.

The Milanese didn’t stop there. The next famous aperitivo to be invented in this Northern city was the Campari. The latter was created by Gaspare Campari in 1860 and advertised as the first bitter aperitivo. That’s how the Bitter was born.

Next, came Martini, precisely in 1863, and again in Turin – at the time known as the city of aperitivo. 

However, in the 1900s it was Milan that made the aperitivo into the Italian cultural ritual we know today, a popular social activity that involves enjoying a drink or two while nibbling on some tasty food.



Italian spritz

The Aperitivo Spritz

The history of this drink is much more intricate than you might envisage. Let’s have a look.

The Birth of Aperol

Aperitivo culture started spreading in Italy and just a few years after the invention of the bitter, the most famous was born in Padova. I am referring to the Aperol, created in 1919 by the Barbieri family which is also known for its Barbieri Amaro.

A year later, the capital city of Aperol’s region came up with its version, the Select bitter.

PS: While Campari and Aperol are much more popular throughout Italy and the rest of the world, in Venice, be prepared to sample the local Select bitter.


Campari vs Aperol

Although they are both bitters, Aperol is known for its sweetness. Campari has a more astringent taste with a rhubarb flavor while Aperol tastes of a sweet-bitter orange.

Another key difference is that Aperol was born to make the Sprits, and so was Select. While Campari was born to be enjoyed as a bitter, and later started being used as a spritz liquor, likely influenced by the popularity of the other two bitters.


Aperol Spritz is much older than you think.

You might now be thinking that the Italian spritz was born right after the Aperol and Select were invented. Well, the one as we know it today was born in the 1920s, but the first spritz dates back to the 1800s.

I can’t credit the Italians for inventing the first spritz, as it was the Austrians who came up with this idea, out of need.

During the Austrian occupation in Venice, the soldiers took the local habit of drinking wine in an osteria. However, the wine was too strong for them, so they started spritzing it with fresh fizzy water. Later, the Italians started serving that same drink but with prosecco instead of regular wine.

Someone ingenious we don’t know about, decided to mix the bitter with this spritz. That’s how the Aperol Spritz was born.



how to make an aperol spritz

Italy’s Most Famous Aperitivo: Ingredients, Variations & How To Make It

It’s clear now how the number one aperitivo drink in Italy came to be. Because of its popularity across the country, it’s a given that different variations exist. Let’s learn about those and the ingredients, and right after I will tell you how to make it at home.

Italian Spritz Ingredients

There are three main ingredients to a classic Italian spritz:

  1. A wine
  2. A bitter
  3. Soda water


Aperol Spritz Variations

The variations lie both in the type of wine used and the bitter brand. Because different bitters have different tastes, the final result can be quite different.

In Padova, the city of Aperol, they use a fizzy white wine and Aperol, of course.

In Venice, they like to make it with still white wine and the local Select bitter.

In Treviso, they like to use Prosecco with either Aperol or Select.

In Alto Adige, there’s a local variation called Hugo Spritz which involves the use of mint and melissa-flavored liquor instead of the bitter.

In Naples, they like to serve a Limoncello variation along with the iconic one. Here, the Limoncello is added to the Prosecco in place of the bitter.

In Sicily, you can find a variation with the local mandarine juice. This is added to Prosecco, Campari, and tonic water, which is slightly more bitter than soda water.

Other recipes include the use of these famous Italian liquors: Vermouth, Cynar, and Italicus.


How to Make An Italian Spritz at Home

Here’s an easy recipe for you to bring the authentic taste of the Italian aperitivo to your own home.

Ingredients:


Instructions:

  1. Prepare the Glass: Start by choosing a large wine glass or a classic Spritz glass – a large wine glass. Fill it generously with ice cubes to ensure your drink stays refreshingly cool.
  1. Pour the Prosecco: Begin with the base of the Spritz by pouring three parts of chilled Prosecco into the glass. 
  1. Add Aperol: Measure and add two parts of Aperol to the Prosecco. Aperol, with its distinct orange hue and bitter-sweet flavor profile, contributes the quintessential taste that makes the Italian Spritz so beloved.
  1. Splash of Soda: To balance the sweetness of the Aperol and enhance the effervescence, add a splash of soda water. 
  1. Garnish with an Orange Slice: Complete your masterpiece by garnishing the drink with a fresh orange slice. The citrusy aroma and flavor complement the Aperol, providing a harmonious finishing touch.
  1. Stir Gently: Give your Spritz a gentle stir to ensure that all the ingredients blend seamlessly. 
  1. Sip and Savor: Now, find a cozy spot, preferably with good company, and savor your Italian Spritz.

Crafting an Italian Spritz at home is not just about mixing ingredients; it’s about embracing the spirit of the Italian aperitivo—a moment of leisure, connection, and, of course, exquisite taste.


Oldest Aperitivo Spots in Italy

If you find yourself in Italy, you can head to one of the oldest cafes to enjoy an Italian spritz in true local style. Most Italian cafes are known for serving the spritz after 11 till the early evening, or later if they stay open longer. Here are the best spots in the most popular Italian cities:

VeniceCaffè Florian since 1720 located in the iconic Piazza San Marco it’s one of the most romantic spots for an aperitivo. If you nail the time, you might even consider proposing there. Imagine that. 

RomeAntico Caffè Greco since 1760 is a gem in Via dei Condotti if you happen to enjoy an intimate setting with old interiors and lots of artwork.

MilanCaffè Cova is the oldest spot in Milan since 1817. But if you want the best one in my opinion, try Comparino in Galleria founded in 1915 by the Campari family. 

TurinCaffè al Bicerin since 1763 and Caffè Florio since 1780 have both beautiful regal settings.

Florence – If you’ve read my Breakfast in Florence article, it’s no surprise I am going to suggest Caffè Gilli since 1733, not only because it’s the oldest but also because it’s the best located with fabulous classic old Italian-style interiors. Another great spot in Florence is the roof terrace inside the Rinascente shopping mall.

NaplesGran Caffè Gambrinus since 1970.

PalermoCaffe Spinnato since 1860 has very rustic wood interiors and a gorgeous outdoor setting.



Other Italian Aperitivo Drinks & Cocktails

Whether a bitter Spritz is not your thing, or you’d like to try something different during your second, third, or fourth aperitivo time in Italy, here’s a list of other great Italian cocktails – shared by la Repubblica – to enjoy with a few snacks.

Bellini – An iconic Italian aperitivo made with prosecco and white peach puree. Created in 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, head bartender at Harry’s Bar in Venice.

Hugo Cocktail – A sparkling wine cocktail from the Alpine region made with prosecco, elderflower syrup, soda water, and mint. Created in 2005 as an alternative to the spritz.

Mi-To – A mixture of bitter liqueur and sweet vermouth, named after the cities of Milan and Turin. Born around 1865 at the famous Camparino bar in Milan.

Negroni – An equal-part cocktail made with gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Named after Count Camillo Negroni who asked to add gin to the Americano in Florence around 1920.

Americano – Campari and sweet vermouth lengthened with soda water. Likely created around 1860 at the Campari Bar in Milan.

Garibaldi – Bitter liqueur and orange juice, named after the Italian patriotic hero Giuseppe Garibaldi. A lower alcohol “long drink.”

Cardinale – An Italian aperitif invented in the 1950s, made with Campari (or other bitter liqueur), orange soda, and fresh orange juice.


Non Alcoholic Aperitivo Drinks

If, like me, you don’t enjoy much alcohol, here are some delicious non-alcoholic drinks to try:



A Look at Aperitivo Hour From North to South

If you want to enjoy your aperitivo hour, or two, in different parts of Italy here’s what you should order and what food to expect to eat. 

Aperitivo in Milan

Try the l’Ora del Bitter cocktail at Camparino in Galleria and expect to eat delicious tartines, accompanied by a selection of crisps, olives, nuts, and other pastry bites.


Aperitivo in Florence

Order a Negroni (or any other drink from the menu) at the Rooftop Bar inside the Rinascente Shopping Mall and you will receive a complimentary plate of crisps, tomato dip and bread, and fried bread bites.


Aperitivo in Rome

Order a Cardinale at Freni & Frizioni and take your aperitivo hour to dinner with dishes like local pizza platters, bucatini alla Romana pasta, and more.


Aperitivo in Puglia

Try a Puglia Colada at Malidea in a beach town called Polignano al Mare while you enjoy slices of pizzas and Italian charcuterie platters.


Sicilian Aperitif

Try the local version of the Negroni called Negroni D’Altavilla while you munch on huge platters of locally marinated olives and grilled vegetables, cheeses, hams, bread, and grissini.



How To Order Aperitivo in Italy: Phrases & Vocabulary

Now that you know what to order and where, let me help you order it in Italian with these key phrases and words.

Aperitivo Phrases To Know

Un tavolo per due, per favore.
A table for two, please

Possiamo ordinare?
Can we order?

Cosa volete ordinare?
What would you like to order?

Cosa prendete?
What are you having?

Ciao ragazzi. (The server will likely address you this way if it’s a casual setting & you are a young couple or group)
Hi, guys.

Vorrei un..
I’d like an + the name of the drink.

Vorremo un..
We’d like an + the name of the drink.

Ci porterebbe un.. /due / un .. e un ..
Could you bring us an../two../ one .. and one.. + the name and quantities of the drink/s.

Prendiamo due..
We’ll take two.. + the name of the drink

Come va, tutto bene? 
How is it going? 

Bene grazie, tutto ottimo.
Everything is great, thanks.

Volete ordinare altro?
Would you like to order anything else?

No, basta cosi. / No, siamo apposto.
No, that’s enough. / No, we are all good.

Si, prendiamo un altro.. / Si, ci porti..
Yes, we’ll take another + name of the drink. / Yes, please bring us..


Aperitivo Words To Learn

Menu dei vini – Wine menu

Menu dei cocktail – Cocktail menu

Menu del cibo – Food menu

Aperitivo – Aperitif

Bibita – Soft drink

Bevanda – Beverage

Cocktail – Cocktail

Vino – Wine

Analcolico – Non-alcoholic

Bicchiere – Glass

Stuzzichini – Appetizers/Snacks

Tagliere – Cutting board (often used for a platter of mixed items)

Panini – Sandwiches

Pizzette – Mini pizzas

Formaggi – Cheeses

Affettati – Cured meats

Prosciutti – Hams

Olive – Olives

Noccioline – Nuts

Patatine – Crisps

Pane fritto – Fried bread

Paté – Pâté

Pane – Bread

Focaccia – Focaccia

Piatto – Plate/Dish

Conto – Bill/Check

Tavolo – Table

Al bar – At the bar

Seduti – Seated

All’impiedi – Standing



Aperitivo Quotes

The following quotes will not only entertain you but also help you better understand the Italian aperitivo culture.

La soluzione giusta al bicchiere mezzo vuoto è ordinare un altro aperitivo.
The right solution to a half-empty glass is to order another aperitif.
(Fabrizio Caramagna)

Un popolo con una così grande varietà di aperitivi come il nostro non può morire di fame.
A population with such a great variety of aperitifs as ours cannot die of hunger.
Marcello Marchesi, Il malloppo, 1971

Il bacio sta all’amplesso come l’aperitivo all’abbuffata.
A kiss is to an embrace as an aperitif is to a binge.
Roberto Gervaso, Il grillo parlante, 1983

Tiriamo a campari…
It’s a fun way to reply to “Come Tira” – the informal way to ask how are you In Italian, and the reply means that you are fueled by Campari.
Anonymous



best aperitivo drink for you

Let’s Find The Best Aperitivo For You

Embark on a flavorful journey through the heart of Italian aperitivo culture with this interactive quiz. Select your preferred cocktail taste, and let the quiz guide you to the perfect Italian aperitivo that aligns with your palate.

Choose Your Preferred Cocktail Taste:

  1. Refreshing and Bittersweet
  2. Fruity and Elegant
  3. Floral and Herbaceous
  4. Balanced and Classic
  5. Bold and Complex
  6. Light and Citrusy
  7. Citrusy and Refreshing
  8. Fruity and Bitter
  9. Exotic and Tropical
  10. Spicy and Aromatic


Check Your Perfect Aperitivo:

Follow the number of your preferred taste to find your ideal Italian aperitivo drink.

  1. Aperol Spritz: Perfect for those who enjoy a refreshing, citrusy taste with a hint of bitterness.
  2. Bellini: Ideal for those with a taste for fruity and sophisticated flavors, akin to a refreshing fruit cocktail.
  3. Hugo Cocktail: Tailored for individuals who appreciate floral and herb-infused beverages.
  4. Mi-To: Suited for those who enjoy a well-balanced mix of bitter and sweet, reminiscent of classic cocktails.
  5. Negroni: A choice for those who prefer bold, complex flavors with a perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness.
  6. Americano: Well-suited for those who enjoy a light, citrusy profile with the effervescence of soda water.
  7. Garibaldi: Tailored for individuals who favor a citrusy and refreshing drink with lower alcohol content.
  8. Cardinale: Ideal for those who appreciate the marriage of bitter and fruity notes in their aperitivo experience.
  9. Puglia Colada: An Italian twist on the exotic, offering a unique and delightful experience with balsamic and robust almond milk.
  10. Ora del Bitter: Suited for those who enjoy the complexity of spicy and aromatic notes in their aperitif.

If you are wondering, mine was number 2, a Bellini.



Tips For Enjoying Aperitivo

Arrive early – Places get packed during peak aperitivo time. Beat the crowds by arriving just as spots are opening to stake out good table spots, or if the place is open all day just go before peak time – better at 6 than 7 pm.

Pace yourself – It’s easy to fill up quickly with unlimited food and drink. Go slow to be able to navigate the offerings without getting too full before dinner. 

Split dishes – If in a group, get small plates of different items to share and sample rather than having to choose one.

Ask for recommendations – Tell the staff what flavors or styles you enjoy and have them suggest their favorite aperitivo cocktails and pairings to try.

Savor the vibe – Soak in the quintessentially Italian energy. Sipping a negroni alongside laughing friends encapsulates la dolce vita.



Final Thoughts on Aperitivo

After learning about the rich history, regional diversity, and how to craft iconic drinks like the Aperol Spritz, you have all the tools to host incredible Italian-inspired aperitivo experiences right at home. More than reproducing recipes, aperitivo is about cultivating community and joy. So as you open your stomach and heart to this tradition – one Italian drink and bite at a time – may your aperitivo hours be filled with meaningful conversation, laughter, and celebration of the good things in life. Salute!



Italian Aperitivo FAQ

Is aperitivo a food or drink?

Aperitivo is both a food and a drink – it refers to the Italian tradition of having an alcoholic drink accompanied by small appetizers/snacks before dinner.

What is a typical aperitivo in Italy? 

A typical aperitivo in Italy consists of a drink like Aperol spritz, Negroni, Hugo Spritz, etc. served with snacks like olives, cheeses, cold cuts, and light bites like pizza, focaccia, vegetable dishes, etc.

What time is aperitivo in Italy?

The aperitivo hour is typically from around 6 pm to 9 pm in Italy before Italians sit down for a late dinner.

How much does aperitivo cost in Italy? 

An aperitivo usually costs around 10 euros or less. For this price, you often get one alcoholic drink and access to a plate or a buffet spread of food. 

What do you wear to an aperitivo in Italy?

Smart casual dress is typical for an Italian aperitivo – think dresses, skirts, pants, button-downs, polos rather than gym clothes or shorts.  

Some of the most popular aperitif drinks are Aperol spritz, Campari, Martini, vermouth, and Prosecco.

Can you drink aperitivo straight? 

Most aperitivo drinks are served mixed/diluted, not drunk straight up.

Is Prosecco an aperitif? 

While Prosecco can be an aperitivo drink, Italians don’t consider it exclusively one. 

Do they do aperitivo in Florence?

Yes, the aperitivo tradition is popular in Florence with many cafés and bars offering special hours.

What are the different types of aperitivos?

Some types are a single drink with snacks on the side, unlimited drinks & food for a fixed price, or apericena buffet style.

What is an aperitivo in Rome? 

A popular Roman aperitivo spot is Freni e Frizoni which offers drink plus appetizers.

Is Aperol and aperitivo the same thing?  

No, Aperol is an Italian bitter liquor while aperitivo refers to the entire drink and food ritual. 

What’s an easy aperitivo at home to make?

An easy classic is the Aperol spritz – make it at home with Aperol, Prosecco, and soda water.

What does a €10 aperitivo include? 

A €10 aperitivo often includes one alcoholic drink and unlimited access to the buffet food spread or a platter of snacks.

Do you put Campari or Aperol in a spritz?

While both work, Aperol is considered more quintessential to an Italian spritz cocktail. 

What drink to order for your aperitivo in Italy?

Great introductory aperitivo drinks to order in Italy are Aperol spritz, Campari spritz, or Bellini.

How shall I serve aperitivo at home? 

Serve Italian aperitivo at home by offering a signature cocktail like negroni paired with small bites like olives, cheeses, and focaccia pieces in a relaxed, standing-style format.

What’s the best Italian drink for aperitivo time?

Iconic Italian aperitivo drinks include Aperol spritz, Campari orange, Negroni, or Milano-Torino cocktails. 

What’s amari in Italian?

Amari refers to Italian bitter liqueurs, usually consumed after dinner as digestifs rather than aperitifs before the meal. It’s the plural of amaro.

What food to serve with aperitivo at home?

Popular foods are cold cuts like prosciutto, salami etc., cheeses, bruschetta, olive tapenade, and small bites like arancini, focaccia.

Is aperitivo non-alcoholic? 

Yes, many places offer non-alcoholic drinks for the aperitivo hour like crodino, san bitter, gingerino, or chinotto.

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