Cosa Nostra Cocktail

Cosa Nostra Di Patrick Pistolesi (Patrick Pistolesi’s Cosa Nostra)

A bitter Italian cocktail recipe featuring Campari and bourbon from Tasting Rome.

Makes1 drink

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Credit: Kristina Gill

Not to be confused with the Sicilian mafia, which is far more potent than any libation, this drink is the house cocktail at Caffè Propaganda near the Colosseum. Its creator, Patrick Pistolesi, one of the pioneers in Rome’s contemporary cocktail scene, is an Irish Italian barman with a flair for American and Italian classics. Here, he merges these two strengths, mixing a sort of Italian Old-Fashioned. Bourbon is the base, joined by the Italian bitter liqueurs Campari, Rabarbaro Zucca, and Fernet Branca.

To be honest, I never thought I’d like the Cosa Nostra because of the inclusion of the bitter liqueurs and the strength of the bourbon. Before I tried it, I favored sweeter cocktails. Yet even for my palate it is surprisingly moreish. When I hired Pharmacie to provide the bar at a party for Tasting Rome, the Cosa Nostra was the runaway favorite.

Using Italian Bitter Liqueurs Beyond the Cosa Nostra

Once you move into making cocktails at home, I think you should just go ahead and start a small bar so you always have something to offer guests. You’ll have no problem figuring out how to use your bourbon, but what can you do with your Italian bitter liqueurs once you’ve made the investment?

Campari, bright red with a slightly bitter taste, is the most versatile of them all (think: Americano, Negroni and Negroni Sbagliato). Rabarbaro Zucca, a deep ruby red liqueur, is slightly more bitter than Campari. It’s made with Chinese rhubarb root, and is quite spiced.  It was created to aid indigestion and may be enjoyable served neat or on the rocks either as an aperitivo or at the end of a meal. Fernet Branca, on the other hand, is the most bitter of the three — I would consider it an acquired taste. It’s made with 27 herbs, spices, and roots, including rhubarb, gentian, galangal, and chamomile. It, too, can be served neat or on the rocks, or mixed with cola, or ginger ale. You could also try any of them with soda water. 

My best advice, however, would be to use them all up making Cosa Nostras. After all, you get more cocktails out of a bottle of hard liquor than you get out of a bottle of wine — so much more bang for your buck! Remember to always serve a little finger food with your cocktails so none of your guests are drinking on an empty stomach.

Cosa Nostra Di Patrick Pistolesi (Patrick Pistolesi’s Cosa Nostra)

A bitter Italian cocktail recipe featuring Campari and bourbon from Tasting Rome.

Makes 1 drink

Nutritional Info


  • Ice

  • 1 1/2 ounces


  • 1/4 ounce

    simple syrup

  • 1 bar spoon


  • 1 bar spoon

    Rabarbaro Zucca

  • 2 dashes

    Fernet Branca

  • Lemon twist


  1. Place 1 large ice cube in an old-fashioned glass, or fill the glass with regular ice cubes. Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add 1 1/2 ounces bourbon, 1/4 ounce simple syrup, 1 bar spoon Campari, 1 bar spoon Rabarbaro Zucca, and 2 dashes Fernet Branca. Stir until well chilled, about 30 seconds.

  2. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into the glass. Twist a strip of lemon peel over the glass and drop it in to the drink as garnish.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted from Tasting Rome. Copyright 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Photographs copyright 2016 by Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC