As a part of the Americano family of aromatized aperitif wines—distinguished primarily by the inclusion of gentian root—Cocchi Americano has enjoyed an almost cultish level of popularity among bartenders since it was first imported by Haus Alpenz in 2010.
Created in Piedmont, Italy, by Giulio Cocchi in 1891, the aperitif is made from Moscato d’Asti wine that is steeped with bitter orange, gentian, wormwood and cinchona—the latter being the source of quinine, the well-known anti-malarial to which so many bitter liqueurs owe their medicinal reputation.
When it was no longer necessary for aperitifs to offer curative benefits, “the desire for bitter [among drinkers]…wasn’t as strong as the desire for sweet,” explains Haus Alpenz founder Eric Seed. As a result, in the 20th century, many producers reformulated their recipes. Most notable was Lillet; in 1986, the company, which had been producing bitter Kina Lillet (a key ingredient in James Bond’s original Vesper) since the late 19th century, sweetened their recipe and removed “Kina” from the name altogether. “[Lillet] sort of went the direction we saw from Tab to Diet Coke,” explains Seed. “Take away the bitter, and you’ll sell more.”
Cocchi, on the other hand, never altered its formula; it still relies on the original 1891 recipe. “It never dialed back its bitter backbone,” says Seed. Today, it’s that very bitterness—not to mention its similarity to the original Kina Lillet—that has made Cocchi so appealing to bartenders. In fact, it was bartender Johnny Raglan, formerly of Absinthe in San Francisco, who first requested that Seed import the Italian aperitif. His reasoning? That swapping Cocchi in for Lillet Blanc in the Corpse Reviver No.2—which had originally called for Kina—would make for a more historically accurate cocktail.
The aperitif also often stands in for Lillet in contemporary White Negroni renditions. In a recent sampling of recipes from top bartenders, few included the drink’s prescribed Lillet. Harrison Ginsberg, the Overstory bartender who crafted the winning spec, said he turned to Cocchi because it “has a more pronounced citrus, specifically orange, note,” which has the ability to bring out the botanical flavors of gin and “emulate the citrus notes found in a classic Negroni.”
Beyond the classics, Cocchi Americano showcases its versatility in the range of spirits it can pair with, from mezcal in the Eight States (a stirred cocktail made with blanc vermouth and aloe liqueur) to gin in the Embassie (a Chartreuse-tinged Gin Sour). It even complements tiki flavors in the spicy, citrusy Shore Leave Spritz.
But it’s Natasha David’s Appellation Cooler, a white wine spritz with an ounce of Cocchi Americano, that most closely recalls how the drink is still enjoyed in Italy: cut with seltzer and garnished with a slice of citrus.