I'm here to tell you that apéritifs are the best kind of drink. Forget happy hours and sundowners, a boozy beverage that has the sole purpose of whetting your appetite before a meal is surely the best?
Maybe it's because I'm nearing 30 that jelly shots and big batch boozy punches are taking a back seat to bitter, rich negronis and dry, crisp, cold glasses of fizz? As I've gotten older, super-sweet, brightly-hued cocktails no longer excite me like a carefully curated cocktail list of pre-dinner tipples, my palate craving something more bitter, more complex and more dry.
But it's not just the taste, the whole concept and culture of drinking an apéritif appeals to me; friends getting together under a low hanging sun, the ice of their spritz frosting their glasses, or a pre-dinner martini before date night in a low-lit city bar at dusk. The romanticism aside, apéritifs are gorgeously refreshing, with flavour profiles leaning more towards the herbal, drier, refreshing end of the cocktail spectrum.
What is an apéritif?
The official definition of an apéritif is a drink that is normally served before a meal to stimulate the appetite, that's usually dry rather than sweet. You can enjoy it solo, or alongside pre-dinner snacks like nuts, olives or other small amuse-bouche style bits.
What type of alcohol is an apéritif?
As mentioned before, there is not one type of alcohol that is classed as an apéritif, instead, it's the style of dry rather than sweet. For example, dry, sparkling wines like Champagne and Crémant are apéritifs, as well as bitter liqueurs like Aperol and Campari, and sprits like vodka and gin.
Different styles of apéritifs:
Now that we know apéritif = bitter + alcohol + refreshing, a lot of drinks spring to mind, right?
Starting off classic and simple, the humble gin and tonic is a great example - perfectly combining a bitter spirit with bubbles and zest for a refreshing drink. In Portugal, you might swap out the gin for white port, for a classic Porto Tonico.
Then there's vermouth, a staggeringly complex and diverse aromatised wine that's enjoyed in France, Italy and Spain. While you can swap the white port, or gin, for vermouth with your tonic, you can also enjoy it with just a splash of soda or Prosecco.
My most memorable experience of drinking vermouth, and one that will stay with me for a long time, was at a small bar in San Sebastian in Spain that served it with gin, lots of ice and lemon oil for an intense aroma and flavour.
Then there's the spritz, a traditional wine-based cocktail served with Aperol or Campari. The most famous of them is the Aperol Spritz, an orange-hued beauty that has become on of the UK's most popular drinks.
In fact, Aperol and Campari, two bitter, Italian liqueurs, are probably the most famous of apéritifs, lending themselves to a whole host of pre-dinner palate cleansers.
Aperol is the less-alcoholic, lighter version of the two, most famous in its spritz format but can also be enjoyed mixed with soda, or as the base of other brilliant cocktails (we have a whole load of Aperol cocktails for inspiration!).
Campari on the other hand lends itself better to stronger drinks, like its most famous - the Negroni, combining Campari, vermouth and gin. You also have the Negroni Sbagliato (Nigella Lawson's fave drink) that swaps the gin out for Prosecco, an Americano that swaps the gin out for soda water, and a Boulevardier that replaces the gin with rye whisky or bourbon. Keeping up? If that's all a bit too much, a Campari and soda is delicious.
We can't talk apéritifs without mentioning the martini, of course. Two-ingredients, shaken or stirred for a delicious, appetite inducing drink, with a little olive brine to make it dirty if you like. You can choose vodka or gin, or both, but then that's called a Vesper. Swap out the vermouth for sweetened lime juice, and you have a gin gimlet. Phew.
Have a made my point yet about apéritifs being super versatile and utterly delicious?
If you're now desperate to make some up for your next dinner party, see below on making the perfect pre-dinner drinks.