A speciality of the Veneto, especially of Bassano del Grappa, grappa is made from pomace or graspa (vinaccia in modern Italian), the grape skins and stems left over from winemaking—the same as marc in France.
First mentioned in a 12th-century chronicle, grappa was originally chugged down as a miracle-working concoction of earth and fire to dispel ill humours. In 1601 the Doge created a University Confraternity of Aqua Vitae to control quality; during the First World War Italy’s Alpine soldiers adopted Bassano del Grappa’s enduring bridge as their symbol and its grappa to keep them on their feet. One of their captains described it perfectly:
Grappa is like a mule; it has no ancestors and no hope of descendants; it zigzags through you like a mule zigzags through the mountains; if you’re tired you can hang on to it; if they shoot you can use it as a shield; if it’s too sunny you can sleep under it; you can speak to it and it’ll answer, cry and be consoled. And if you really have decided to die, it will take you off happily.
Grappa can be rotgut, or very, very good. Today drunk as a digestivo, it's also the perfect liqueur for correcting your coffee.
Images by: Graeme Churchard, Angelo Amboldi