Spumoni Cocktail

National Spumoni Day

Your cocktail calendar entry for: August
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August 21 is National Spumoni Day and that means it’s time to mix the Spumoni cocktail.  Spumoni as a dessert originated in Naples, Italy.  It’s popular in countries with large Italian immigrant populations like the United States and Argentina and has been twisted into local versions.  Spumoni as a drink, however, comes from Japan and looks like a classic, light, Italian aperitivo.

So, for today we’ve got a classic Italian dessert twisted into an American form and Japanese cocktail to drink in its honor.  Makes sense to us.  And in the middle of the summer, when refreshing, low-ABV drinks are a good thing to have in your arsenal, the Spumoni cocktail hits the mark.

So just what is Spumoni?

Food historians generally agree that spumoni originated somewhere around Naples, Italy, during the 19th century.  But then the history gets a little squishy, so to speak.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Salvatore Lezza brought his precious family recipe for spumoni with him in 1905 when he emigrated to the U.S.  He married Lucia Ferrara of the famous Ferrara Pan candy company and they became the go-to place for Chicago spumoni.

Classic spumoni involves layers of layers of pistachio, cherry and chocolate creams interspersed with nuts and bits of candied fruit.  It wasn’t made from ice cream, it was created from semifreddo, which means ‘half cold’ in Italian.  Semifreddo is a milk sherbet, which is different than ice cream.  It contains less water, isn’t churned, and uses more fat in the form of cream.  It’s a progenitor of gelato, which itself is closer to ice cream.

In the U.S. the whole thing became Americanized.  Ice cream was and remains the creamy sweet of choice and virtually every spumoni recipe simply uses it.  Spumoni also inspired what’s known as Neopolitan ice cream, a combination of the most popular flavors:  strawberry, vanilla and chocolate.

Nowadays the flavors used in spumoni are all over the map.  That’s not a bad thing, but traditionalists do decry something being called spumoni when it’s scooped.  Spumoni should be sliced to show off its layers.  This is a bit like the use of olives in cocktails and the important rule:  one or three, but never two.  Some things are just plain wrong.

So while there are no longer any horse drawn carts selling spumoni door to door it’s certainly worth seeking out some on National Spumoni Day.  And, of course, having a Spumoni cocktail.

The Spumoni Cocktail

If you go to Italy and ask for a Spumoni cocktail you will likely be met with a puzzled stare.  It’s not because National Spumoni Day would confuse someone.  Rather, it’s because the drink recipe originated in Japan where it remains popular.  Exactly who created it isn’t clear, but Suntory sold it in a can for a while.  The Suntory version presumably contained juice and Campari, with instructions to add tonic water to taste.

The only alcohol in the original Spumoni cocktail recipe is Campari, which makes it a low-ABV drink.  That with juice and tonic water makes it a refreshing drink, particularly useful in summer heat.  Nonetheless, some readers may prefer a drink with a bit more oomph.  As Hemingway wrote in a letter spelling out his recipe for a Bloody Mary, “If it lacks authority add more vodka.”  As it turns out some bars do prefer a slightly more potent drink than the recipe we present.  They, however, add a half ounce of gin rather than vodka and we’d advise doing the same.

spumoni cocktail

Spumoni Cocktail

A delightful, low-ABV sipper, the Spumoni cocktail originated in Japan where Suntory sold it in canned form. The drink remains popular, and for good reason: it's a perfect warm weather drink. Using only Campari along with juice and tonic water, some drinkers (and bars) like their version to be a bit more potent. In that case we recommend following in Ernest Hemingway's steps as he wrote in his Bloody Mary recipe: "If it lacks authority add more vodka." Only thing is, in this case gin is a better choice and we'd advise adding about a half ounce as an optional ingredient.
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  • oz Campari
  • oz Fresh grapefruit juice White or ruby grapefruit juice are both fine.
  • Tonic water
  • Garnish: orange slice


  • This is a drink to simply build in the glass.
  • Fill glass with ice.
  • Add Campari and grapefruit juice, top with tonic water.
  • Stir gently.
  • Garnish with slice of orange.
  • Drink.


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