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Grappa: All You Need To Know About Italy’s National Drink


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Sarah Holden

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Image by lopinaNeu from Pixabay

Grappa is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Italy and has a longstanding history in the country. People originally considered it to be a poor man’s drink. The working classes drunk the brandy to increase morale, protect against the cold, and increase energy.


Distilleries in Italy produce approximately forty million bottles of the brandy each year. In 1989, the European Union declared that the drink could only be called grappa if it was sourced and produced on Italian soil.


The History Of Grappa

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Photo by Ole Husby on Flickr


Historians believe that the drink has origins in the Middle East. Between the 8th and 12th centuries, invaders settled on the island of Sicily where they shared their distillation knowledge with the Salerno monks, who used the process to distill medicinal herbs.


While the early days of grappa are a mystery, there are clear records of the brandy from the 17th century onwards. Jesuit communities kept accounts of the details of the distillation techniques and recipes.


By the 18th century, the drink was especially popular among members of religious orders and farmers. They drank the low-cost liquor for enjoyment and respite while working in the fields.


The drink didn’t become commercially popular until the 1960s when the liquor became known for its sophistication. As a matter of fact, it even became the go-to drink at fine dining restaurants.


Nowadays, the Italian brandy is in alcohol cabinets worldwide and is a reputable alcoholic beverage with many different brands and flavours. Grappa has even been included in many cocktail recipes and has developed adoration worldwide.


Tourist Secret

For a simple cocktail, combine grappa with tonic water and add a slice of citrus fruit such as orange, lemon or lime. The cocktail holds a similar taste to a gin and tonic but with a more intense, crisp flavour.


How To Make Grappa


It is from the leftovers of the winemaking process with the main ingredient being pomace, which is a mixture of grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems.


For the fermentation process, brewers must ensure that the pomace is fresh and moist.  It is possible to use any variety of grapes to produce the drink but better quality grapes result in a finer liquor.


After fermentation, the pomace must be skilfully heated. The still is often placed in a second water-filled container. Makers also steam it to prevent burning. Only the most experienced distillers know the exact moment when the head of the mixture can be separated from the underlying liquid. High-quality grappa should be clear in colour but grappa that has been aged in oak barrels will have a golden tinge.


Grappa is also available in a range of flavoured blends such as honey, almond, berry and Acqua di Cedro, a grappa liquor made with cedro, a common Italian fruit with a lemony taste.


How To Drink Grappa

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Photo by Andrew Mager on Flickr


Italians drink grappa as a digestive aid after meals or drunk as a shot. Also, they add the brandy to espresso, known as caffè coretto.


Italians usually drink it chilled in a tall, thin glass. However, they drink it at room temperature from a brandy bowl if it is aged. Grappa bottles range in size and shape, but good grappa should always come in a clear bottle to show off the liquor.


Grappa is also a common Italian folk remedy to relieve toothaches, indigestion, rheumatism, and bronchitis.


Tourist Secret

Italians call Grappa “healthy water” as it helps them to relax and digest.



There are four categories of grappa: young, cask-conditioned, aromatic, and aromatised. While tasting the liquor, you should start with a young grappa and work your way up the categories to an aromatised grappa.


Grappa tasting always starts with the sample that has the lowest alcohol content and finishes with the strongest. If two grappas have the same alcohol content, the smoother of the two should be consumed first.


Some people also test grappa by smelling a small amount on the back of the hand to see if it produces a pleasant aroma.


After each tasting experts recommend drinking a small glass of milk to refresh the palette.


Grappa Museum

museum, grappa

Photo by Maria Keays on Flickr


There are two grappa museums located in Italy where you can trace the history of grappa making over the centuries. The Poli family opened the museums. They have been distilling artisan Grappa since 1898.


Poli Grappa Museum In Bassano del Grappa

The Poli Grappa Museum is located a short distance from Venice in Bassano del Grappa, the home of Poli grappa. The museum was created by the Poli family to show their appreciation for the drink. Visitors can take a self-guided tour through five rooms that showcase the history of grappa and display grappa related items.


Tasting tours are available for 3 euro per person and visitors will have the opportunity to sample five different types of grappa.


Tourist Secret: Check out these top things to do in Venice on your trip.


Poli Grappa Museum In Schiavon

The Poli Grappa Museum in Schiavon sits at the foothills of Veneto and spans out over two floors. Visitors are welcome to come for self-guided tours and can expect to see many interesting items related to the history of grappa and its distillation process along with interesting videos.


Guided tours of the distillery can be booked for 8 euro per person and visitors will have the opportunity to sample a variety of Poli distillates.


Tourist Secret

Only 10% or less than 2 million litres of the liquor is exported from Italy each year.


Where To Buy It In The US

While the Italian brandy was once the drink of the working man, today it is a common sight in most high-end bars and fine wine and spirits stores across the United States, especially in bigger cities.


The most common distributor is Clear Creek, which is based in Oregon. They have set out to blend Italian brandy-making techniques with Pacific Northwest fruit to produce a high-quality brandy.


Final Thoughts

Grappa is a drink you shouldn’t pass up on when you’re in Italy. So why not book a flight and plan a trip to Italy today? Let us know about your trip and what grappa tastes like in the comments!