The Italian Copilot

The San Francisco Intercontinental’s bar doesn’t quite click. They have one of the best collections of grappa in the US. From the floor to the 20 foot ceiling, shelves are lined with rows of clear bottles of the translucent, slightly yellow liquid… but don’t expect much help in navigating their expansive stores. Even when the bar isn’t busy, the staff are generally disinterested and not particularly helpful. 

For the unfamiliar, grappa is made from pomace, the residue that’s left over from winemaking. Pomace, the sludge of grape skins, stems and seeds that’s left over from pressing grapes. Grappa used to be almost uniform; the Italian government used to purchase pomace from every winery in the country and blend it together to prevent illegal distillation and to try to enforce tax collection. As a result, grappa was uniform, and pretty uninviting stuff. In the 1960s, however, the Nonino family branched out and started creating single varietal (one grape) grappas from fresh wine pressings, effectively starting the Italian craft grappa movement.

Nowadays there are a great many single vintage (one grape variety) grappas on the market from every grape under the sun. Great wine grapes, however, don’t necessarily make great grappas, so expect to discover some varietals you’ve never heard of, and don’t expect Brunello or Nebbiello varietal grappas to be at the top of the heap.

Grappa hasn’t seen as much love on the cocktail circuit as many other spirits, owing in part to the association homogenous grappas of the 1960s. We came up with the Italian copilot after tinkering with a few recipes. I went light on the Maraschino because the Campari is quite sweet relative to some other Amari. I’m pleased with the results and continuing to tinker with the formula. Would love your thoughts and feedback!

Cocktail next to a bottle and a cocktail shaker in front of a backlit bar


  • 1.5 oz Grappa
  • .5 oz Maraschino
  • .75 oz Campari
  • 3 oz Soda Water


Highball / Tom Collins Glass


  • Add all ingredients except the soda water to a cocktail shaker.
  • Stir at least 20 times and strain into a high ball
  • Top with Soda Water
  • Garnish with a few purple grapes.

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