Aperitifs—those low-alcohol, often bitter drinks served prior to the start of a meal—are one of the drinks world’s most enticing tools, meant to pique the appetite and the palate before a big meal. And whether it is simply poured over ice or in a cocktail, this pre-dinner teaser often features one of five specially formulated liqueurs. Here, the essential aperitif liqueurs every home bar should include.
Flavored with bitter herbs, roots and other botanicals, this ruby-hued Italian liqueur is a balance between super-bitter and sweet. In our opinion, it’s an absolute must for home bartenders to have on hand at all times—especially if they’ve bought into the Negroni craze. Not only will it help create an abundance of Americanos, Boulevardiers and other twists on the all powerful Negroni, but Campari also comes in handy for a number of other modern cocktails. It’s important to stay current.
Though it’s similar in color to Campari, Aperol is much milder than its uber-bitter cousin. While it’s primarily known for its role in the Aperol Spritz, the liqueur also lends its lightly bitter, zesty flavor to cocktails like the Garibaldi and Hudson Yards Swizzle. If you don’t want to spring for both Aperol and Campari, the two can be used interchangeably, but keep in mind that drinks made with Aperol won’t have the same bitter pungency as those made with Campari.
This bitter, vegetal and somewhat obscure liqueur is an easy way to add intrigue to your cocktails. Not only is it delightful on its own over ice or in a Poison Dart, but it can also be swapped in for sweet vermouth in a Manhattan or mixed with everything from scotch to tequila to port. You could also give it a whirl in a Negroni or Americano in place of Campari for a darker, moodier take on the classic cocktails.
Pimm's No. 1
The Pimm’s Cup may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the decidedly British Pimm’s fruit liqueur, but the 25-percent ABV liqueur can be used in a number of ways. Made from a base of gin and fortified with fruits, herbs and quinine, Pimm’s No. 1 can be sipped on its own over ice, mixed with lemonade or soda water or used in a variety of cocktails, including the low-proof Tristram Shandy and Tropicalia Pimm’s Cooler. There’s hardly a better aperitif liqueur to have on hand when hosting a summertime party.
Pastis is a great low-ABV alternative to absinthe, which typically has a proof of over 100. Like its higher proof kin, pastis appears translucent in the bottle, but once water is added it turns milky and opaque. It’s also heavily flavored with anise, so if you like black licorice, you’re in luck. For a perfect pastis-based aperitif, swap it in for absinthe in a Death in the Afternoon or simply dilute it with water and serve it over ice with orange or lemon rind.