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Gio's Pizza and Bocce Brings Back Old-School Sips

The Berkeley restaurant offers thirst-quenching throwbacks made with traditional aperitifs and digestifs.


Gio’s vermouth flight pairs a trio of aromatized wines with citrus oils.

Photo by Peter Medilek Photography

A classic aperitif that serves as a key ingredient in martinis and Manhattans, vermouth is rarely appreciated in its own right. But Nick Stolte, the bar manager at Gio’s Pizza and Bocce in Berkeley, is trying to change that by highlighting aromatized wines—such as vermouth—and traditional Italian liqueurs in a whole new way.

Stolte has developed a cocktail program that “pays homage to these heritage spirits,” he says. “With aromatized wines, it’s an easy way to show some roots.”

Take, for instance, the lavender pomegranate spritz—one of Gio’s four rotating spritzes on tap. Comprised of Lo-Fi dry vermouth, dry gin, and lavender-infused grenadine, it’s house kegged and run on a CO2 line to deliver a refreshing, seasonal cocktail with low alcohol by volume.

But enjoying a great vermouth in a spritz is easy. For something different, consider the amaro flight—a selection of three herbal liqueurs from producers in Northern Italy, Southern France, and California. This taste-and-contrast approach to amaro—a bittersweet botanical spirit that’s typically sipped as a digestif—is one of Stolte’s favorite ways to introduce customers to the varietal.

“The terroir [of amaro] is totally dependent on where and who produces it,” Stolte explains. “For example, there are bright mountain herbs from Northern Italy versus the woodsy botanicals of California. That’s what really gets people’s attention and hooks them into it.”

Stolte has been amazed by the public’s receptiveness to his bar program and is excited about its rise in popularity. “It’s a niche category, but it’s growing,” he says. “It makes me feel like I’m helping build community through a drink.” giosberkeley.com.

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