The Food Life: Grape Not Grain

written by Charity Keita 6th December 2016

During her stay in Italy, Charity Keita discovers that she can live without whisky as long as she can finish off her meal with a nice grappa.


Italy is a place of many drinks. Many of them come from grapes, some of them not. Italy is not, however, a place of whisky. Sure, you can walk into any regular booze shop and pick up some Jack Daniel’s or Jameson but single malts are not widely available on supermarket shelves and decent bourbons even less so. As far as I can see, Kenya’s bigger supermarkets are far better at stocking the good stuff. You can order a decent Glenfiddich at the bar without anyone raising an eyebrow but in my experience so far, Italians really aren’t big whisky aficionados.

Personally I am enjoying the break in my long-standing love affair with the tipple. Over the years, single malts have seen me through many heartbreaks and countless heart-to-hearts.I have happily knocked back more Famous Grouse than I care to think over the course of many a jovial Nairobi night. At heart, I am a single malt girl: nothing beats the smokey, peaty complexity of good Scottish single malt. I’ve never really understood people’s fixation for expensive blends: unless it was made in a micro distillery, I think most expensive blends (however long they’ve been aged) are slightly sweet and vastly overrated.

Here in Italy, I am greatly enjoying the tradition of a grappa to wash down dinner. Grappa is a distillation made from grape skins that have undergone the winemaking process. Grappa is totally translucent and could be mistaken for water; much like whisky before it undergoes the barrel aging process. Grappa barricata instead, is aged in barrels and the resulting liquid is darker and more whisky-ish in colour. After a restaurant meal, the waiter will inevitably ask you: “would you like some dessert or coffee to finish your meal with?” Once you say yes to coffee, the next step is to order an ammazza caffe (translated as: coffee killer) which is either a limoncello (lemon liqueur from Southern Italy), an amaro (herb liqueur, similar to a Jagermeister, mostly made in Northern Italy) or the aforementioned grappa.


The thing about grappa is that you really can’t drink more than a couple tots of it. One, maybe two, are enough to dissolve the delicious food that you have ingested but three just feels wrong. It isn’t more-ish in the same way whisky is and I like that. After dinner we can go back to sipping red wine if we so please and the hangovers are infinitely less bad as a result.

When on a night out in:

Rome: visit Circolo Coda di Gallo on Via del Pellegrino


On my frequent visits to Rome I keep on ending up at this delightful after hours drinking and live music club. To enter, one must walk up to a residential building, press on the buzzer and then quietly walk through the hallway and down the stairs into a cavernous dark and humid cellar. Best described as a Roman underground speakeasy the music is loud (the sound does not permeate to the floors above), the cocktails are on point and the atmosphere heady. Open until 6am, this is the place to go when everyone else has pulled down the shutters!


Firenze: visit Ditta Artigianale, Via dei Neri 32:
If you were to ask me what the most surprising thing I have experienced alcohol-wise in Italy so far I’d have to answer “the gin and tonics!”. It came as a real surprise to find out that specialty tonics are all the rage here. Ditta Artigianale has the most disorienting selection of gins I have ever seen in my life. I counted about 35 different ones both Italian and northern European and was told the selection is updated on a monthly basis. Due to the impossibility of knowing which one to try I suggest putting yourself in one of the expert bartender’s hands and letting them guide you through the juniper labyrinth.

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