5 Excellent New-School Aperitifs
The apéritif (in French) or aperitivo (in Italian) is commonly known as a simple, appetite-stimulating drink enjoyed before dinner.
Usually a French or Italian fortified wine or bitter liqueur (think Lillet, Suze, Campari or Chartreuse), it’s served straight up or with minimal adornment. It’s never too strong, it’s herbaceous and just sweet or bitter enough to get the mouth watering before the main event.
But this traditionally European pre-supper sip has undergone a major global makeover. It’s no longer exclusively French or Italian, and not always served neat.
These days, you’re likely to encounter American apéritifs like vermouth, or full-blown cocktails featuring fino Sherry. These new-school styles are a delicious and creative start to any meal.
In general, an apéritif wine is lightly fortified with spirits (usually brandy). Some have citrus peel or other flavorings added. These easy sippers, like Lillet or Dubonnet, are great on their own, but play well in cocktails, too.
Note: Refrigerate after opening.
All Day Long
Recipe courtesy Morgan Weber, co-owner, Coltivare Pizza and Garden, Houston
3 lemon peels, cut wide
3 ounces Lillet Rosé
2 ounces sparkling mineral water (like Perrier) or club soda
¼ ounce lemon juice
1 barspoon simple syrup
3 dashes grapefruit bitters
Over a rocks glass, twist the lemon peels to release the oils before placing them in the glass. Add remaining ingredients and add ice. Gently stir to combine.
Vermouth is made from a wine base, and is fortified (usually with brandy) and aromatized with herbs, roots or spices. Whether sweet (red) or dry (white), vermouth is a key ingredient for rounding out cocktails.
Note: Refrigerate after opening. Some vermouths are now available in smaller (375-ml) size bottles, which means they can be used more quickly, minimizing potential spoilage.
Recipe courtesy Nathan Rogers, head bartender, Tamarina, Miami
1 ounce Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (sweet vermouth)
1 ounce Campari
Birra Moretti or an Italian beer, to top
Orange wheel, for garnish
Combine the vermouth and Campari in a snifter or wine glass with ice. Top with beer. Garnish with the orange wheel and serve with a straw.
Fortifying wines was originally done to preserve the product on long sea voyages. Examples are Sherry, Port and Madeira, which have now become a key part of the apéritif canon. In particular, Spanish Sherry has become an apéritif favorite, with its wide range of flavor profiles, from light, briny manzanilla to rich, dried fruit-driven oloroso.
Note: Refrigerate after opening.
Recipe courtesy Derek Brown, Mockingbird Hill, Washington, DC
4 ounces fino Sherry
1 dash orange bitters
Lemon peel, for garnish
Pour ingredients into a wine glass over ice. Lightly stir and garnish with a lemon peel.
These bitter beauties are spirits steeped with all manner of embittering roots, herbs and spices. Alcohol levels and degree of bitterness can vary widely. Cynar, used below, is on the lighter side for both. Other popular amaros include Campari, Averna and Amaro Montenegro.
Some might dispute classifying amaro as an aperitivo, as it was traditionally sipped as quasi-medicinal digestivo after a meal. But modern barkeeps are mixing plenty of amaros into pre-meal cocktails.
Note: Don’t refrigerate after opening. Distilled spirits can be stored at room temperature.
The Cyn Sin
Recipe courtesy Paul Dellevigne, lead bartender, Red Owl Tavern, Philadelphia
1 ounce Cynar
1 ounce Carpano Antica (sweet vermouth)
1 ounce Macallan 12 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch
Orange twist, for garnish
Stir all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker, then strain into a glass over ice. Garnish with orange twist.
Not all liqueurs are destined for dessert time. Many offer light flavors that are apéritif-worthy, like herbal green Chartreuse, citrusy Dimmi and floral St-Germain.
Note: Don’t refrigerate after opening.
And God Created Woman
Recipe courtesy Carlo Splendorini, director of cocktails, Bardot Brasserie, Las Vegas
2 ounces Citadelle Gin
½ ounce Byrrh
½ ounce St-Germain
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Angostura bitters, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients (except garnish) with ice. Shake well, and strain into a cocktail glass. Add a few drops of Angostura bitters to garnish.
- 1Apéritif wines
- 3Sherry & Other Fortifieds