Spirits Around the World: Grappa

Delight guests with this storied Italian liquor

Grabbing drinks with friends or colleagues has long been a way to decompress after a hard day’s work. Take it from Italian workers of the Middle Ages: After a long day of manual labor, the working class would turn to grappa, a distilled liquor usually served as a digestif, to help digest heavy meals and keep warm in the winter months. 

Considered a poor man’s drink, grappa is made from pomace, or the seeds, stalks and skins of grapes left over from winemaking—a process that ensures that no part of the grape goes to waste. And like wine, its taste depends on the quality of the grape.

Although grappa’s exact origin isn’t known, it’s been around nearly as long as wine. Some accounts date the first cup of grappa from as early as the second century, predating other distilled beverages, such as genever, whiskey, vodka and gin. And though it might have gotten a head start on other liquors, grappa wasn’t particularly tasty (cheap grappa has been known to taste similar to kerosene), which was why it was consumed mostly by lower classes.

Fast forward to post-World War II: The United States’ Marshall Plan, a program that supplied economic aid to Europe following the war, provided capital to Italy that created an economic boom. As a result, the desire for Italian cuisine and culture around the world skyrocketed—including the desire for grappa. During the 1960s, a small family of grappa distillers, the Noninos, became the first to mass-market a high-class grappa—one with a sweeter profile similar to cognac—that ultimately changed the spirit’s perception as a poor man’s concoction to a delight for every type of drinker. 

How to Serve Grappa

Want to include this Italian spirit in your meeting’s beverage experience? Try it four ways:

Serve it traditional: To get the best flavor, do as the Italians do and drink grappa neat or slightly chilled out of a small tulip-shaped grappa glass. 

For morning meetings: Kick off early gatherings with “caffè corretto,” or “corrected coffee” in Italian, which is a small glass of one shot each of espresso and grappa.

In a specialty cocktail: For those looking to create grappa-inspired, event-exclusive drinks, try putting a spin on a classic cocktail with grappa. Grappa gingers, tonics and Old-Fashioneds are all sure to be new favorites. 

As a sweet treat: Let guests have their grappa and eat it, too. Consider giving cookies a boost by adding a touch of the liquor. An almond grappa cookie, for example, is the perfect pairing of flavors.