Apéritifs Step Into the Spotlight This Summer

Raise a glass and lower your cocktail’s ABV.

Aperitifs popular for summer
Design by Grace Han For Thrillist

Summer is around the corner and as more people get vaccinated, we’re reaching for hard hugs and light drinks. But what if light beer isn’t cutting it or *gasp* the Claw is no longer the law?

An apéritif (or aperitivo in Italian—this continental divide will come up again later) is an extremely loose term describing a drink that gets you in the mood for dinner. These drinks can contain bubbles or hard alcohol, like the Negroni, gimlet, or even the classic martini, but these days, it’s all about the apéritif spirit. 

For the past few years, these spirits have been trending upwards, usually highlighted by specific drinks such as the Aperol Spritz or buzzy brands like Haus.

“This [trend] was kicked off when spritzes, sherry, and amari first started trending five years ago or so. But it can only grow in variety from there as more ingredient options pop up and bartenders explore and play around more,” says Caroline Pardilla, an LA-based cocktail writer and Instagrammer who’s extensively covered the local scene since 2007. “And it's a welcome trend since people may want to dial back the drinking after having spent a year boozing it up at home.”

Haus aperitif
Courtesy of Haus

In many ways, Haus has been a gateway into this drink category for new generations, and even more people have discovered the company throughout the pandemic. After a steady rise, the brand exploded in 2020, with sales growing 800 percent, and that success has crossed over into this year as it continues to see month over month growth. 

With apéritif spirits solidly back in the mainstream and an increasingly diverse market to suit any palate, they’re poised to be the Goldilocks drinks of the summer. Less boozy than typical spirits and usually equal to double the alcohol content of wine (many are sparkling or aromatized wines), apéritif spirits create a middle ground of responsible fun. You can take them on their own or have just as satisfying cocktails as you would with hard liquor. 

Pardilla was most recently wowed by the Fanny Flutters, a Crémant de Bourgogne cocktail with guava, lemon, and a butterfly pea flower float (stabilized with vodka, but its presence is negligible) at Soulmate in West Hollywood. 

With drinks this gorgeous and tasty, you don’t have to go straight to mocktails to pare back your alcohol intake. Here are some suggestions for next time you’re in the market for a light, refreshing apéritif.

This passion fruit liqueur needs to be refrigerated, but you definitely won’t forget about it just because it’s not sitting on your home bar. With a decadent mouthfeel, this tropical apéritif is refreshing on the rocks or as a rum substitute in a pina colada or frozen daiquiri.

From humble beginnings, Haus now has several flavor options ranging from the typical dry apéritif palate in bitter clove to the brighter, more floral lemon lavender and even spicy options like ginger yuzu and grapefruit jalapeno. You can customize a sampler kit to take four flavors for a spin or go straight for one that sounds like it’s up your alley.

Biano/Blanc Vermouth

Remember that old French-Italian nomenclature rivalry? That extends to this special vermouth category that sits between sweet and dry. Martini & Rossi or Dolin are your most accessible choices while the crowd favorite is the quinine-flavored Cocchi Americano, but nothing is stopping you from enjoying the more affordable options with tonic water. 

Lillet’s stable of aromatized wines are all winners, but what is summer without rosé? Sweet, but not cloying, Lillet Rosé plays well with other ingredients without getting completely lost in the mix.  

Make no mistake, Aperol ran so Haus could soar. Over the company’s long history, Aperol has made routine, huge marketing swings — the most recent one is why every bar and brunch spot near you has an Aperol Spritz on the menu. But the proof is in the pudding; more than 100 years of orange-forward excellence doesn’t lie. 

On the bitter end of the orange-flavored aperitivi, the almost impossibly red Campari is the part of a Negroni people react strongly to. Not for the faint of heart, Campari wakes up your palate unlike anything else out there, making it the quintessential pre-dinner drink.

Rounding out the Italian amari heavyweights, Averna is well-suited to whiskey lovers. If you’re looking for something complex and a little lighter to sip on, Averna tempers its caramel notes with a variety of herbs and a hint of orange you can’t shake—and you won’t want to. 

Yes, more oranges, but this time, there are bubbles! This is not an orange i.e. skin-contact wine, but rather a sparkling wine blended with oranges and bitters. The end result is reminiscent of both a mimosa and Aperol Spritz, but it finishes drier and brighter.

Gin lovers will flip for this floral amaro that’s a new take on the long-abandoned rosolio subcategory. Bergamot, rose, and lavender were the best throuple until Tessa Thompson cuddled up with Rita Ora and Taika Waititi on that balcony, but it’s still unparalleled in a glass.

Suze

If you could drink a nap in a meadow, it would be this golden elixir. Light and herbaceous, this citrusy liqueur has a little sweet, a little heat, and a lingering bitterness, but it’s vegetal core is polarizing. Not everyone can handle Suze on the rocks (not using vegetal lightly here), but it’s a surprising jack of all trades in a variety of cocktails.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

J. Fergus is a lifestyle writer known for food, alcohol, cannabis, and tech coverage—the modern rhombus of vices. Their words have graced the likes of Foodbeast, Tastemade, The Manual, and Chowhound. Their words have also been known to disgrace Twitter.