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Low Proof: Acanto Wants To Introduce You To Italian Aperitivi

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Oct 31, 2014 4:00PM

Page says he wanted to give each cocktail a unique number rather than a name. This is #3: Carpano Antica, wood-grilled orange, and soda.
It’s no doubt that Italy pioneered many of the world’s best drinks. But while many of us might be familiar with Italian wines, an entire class of excellent Italian drinks has been hard to find on many menus. These are the aperitivi: rooted in the word “to open,” they are meant to be served before a meal as a liquid appetizer of sorts. They are typically light drinks with bitter dry flavors. And I was happy to see that Acanto (18 S Michigan Ave.) features four of them at the top of their cocktail menu.

I spoke with beverage director Michael Page about how he developed this menu. “There aren’t many things to put in cocktails that are made in Italy. So I asked what would a cocktail bar be like in Italy? Italians take things from other places and do an Italian spin on it.”

The aperitivi bases are classic Italian apertif wines both well-known such as Cocchi Americano Rossa and the more obscure like Cappelletti, which looks like Campari, but is actually older and wine-based, giving it a well-rounded fruit character to balance the bitterness. They are balanced with house-made syrups like the wood-grilled orange, which is also featured in an excellent non-alcoholic drink on the menu and liquors from elsewhere like Combier orange, which Page describes as “very similar to triple sec, but not too cloying or too sweet.”

Beyond bringing this aspect of Italian drinking to a larger audience, Page says he wanted to offer drinks that were low-proof. “It gives options for guests to come in at lunch and enjoy themselves. Or enjoy as a before-dinner drink and then enjoy a glass of wine with their food. It’s about finding things that you can consume throughout the night and not worry about having one more.”

This is part of a series here at Chicagoist focusing on low-proof cocktails. We hope to highlight the best, so stay-tuned for further chapters in the Low-Proof series.