Labor Day in the United States is upon us, and although not celebrated in Italy, we like to give our readers on the “other side of the pond” the chance to savor the taste of the Bel Paese on special occasions.
What better than a refreshing end of summer Italian cocktail to mix on the Labor Day weekend? We’re toasting to summer’s exit with two (yes, two!) versions of a fabulous Italian long drink called “Bicicletta” (bicycle), which in other parts of Italy is also known as “Garibaldi” – Italy’s popular freedom fighter, a military folk hero who was pivotal to the unification of Italy.
First, let’s examine the “Bicicletta” – a Campari-based aperitivo that is hugely popular in Northern Italy and that is commonly enjoyed both pre-dinner as well as sipped before lunch. Originally, this was considered a simple, everyday cocktail, often sipped by older men who went to their local bar to catch up on latest sports news, smoke cigarettes and play card games.
The Bicicletta’s precise birth date is vague, purportedly in the mid 1930s when Fortunato Depero – a Futurist artist – was commissioned by the Campari brand to design the bottle for their first commercially sold pre-mix drink (Bitter + seltzer), the Campari Soda. The name ‘Bicicletta’ is also veiled in mystery, although some like to associate the moniker to the fact that many patrons would reach their local watering hole by riding their bicycle (it was rare to have a car in those days) and because of the pleasant inebriation after a few glasses of it, would be forced to walk the bike home, instead of riding it.
We’re sharing our recipe for the perfect Bicicletta (provided you don’t drive – or ride a bike – after drinking it):
Glass needed: Baloon, tumbler, old-fashioned, there’s no set rule
Garnish: Lemon twist
3 fl oz Campari Soda
2.5 fl oz dry white wine (Pinot Grigio, Vernaccia, Vermentino, Chardonnay, Falanghina…)
Splash of club soda (optional)
Fill a glass with ice cubes.
Add dry white wine, Campari, and a splash of club soda, if you wish.
Garnish with a lemon twist.
As it often happens with traditional preparations, different regions modify the recipe to include native ingredients and to suit local palates. In Rome what is referred to as ‘Bicicletta’ is instead an equal mix of Campari and orange soda. A more elegant version is made using fresh squeezed orange juice mixed with Bitter Campari and served in a tall glass. This long drink is also known as the “Cardinale” but I prefer the drink’s other popular name, the “Garibaldi”.
The patriotic Garibaldi cocktail takes its name from the popular historical figure’s red shirt and is inspired by its crimson ingredients. This cocktail was invented at the beginning of the 20th century, by mixing all-Milanese Capari with orange juice, the symbolic fruit of Sicily, where Garibaldi’s red-clad Mille (thousand men) landed in 1860 to liberate it from the Bourbon rule and annex the island to the rest of what would soon become the newly constituted Italian state.
If Garibaldi is more your thing, here’s how to mix the perfect Garibaldi cocktail:
Glass needed: Highball or medium tumbler
Ice: mandatory in summer
Garnish: an orange wedge
2 fl oz Bitter Campari
3 fl oz freshly squeezed orange juice (tarocco or blood oranges, preferably)
Pass the juice through a strainer and pour over ice.
Add the Bitter Campari and mix with a swizzle stick.
Drop an orange wedge in the glass and enjoy.
We hope you enjoyed our Bicicletta and Garibaldi, end of summer cocktails. Happy Labor Day!
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.