Aperitif culture continued to grow into the 20th century in Europe. In 1919, perhaps one of today’s most popular aperitif cocktails was born when Count Camillo Negroni asked for a stronger version of his favorite cocktail, the Americano, at a bar in Florence. The bartender swapped out the usual soda water for gin and the Negroni was born. Beware: The cocktail is far more potent than most aperitifs — so watch out for these on an empty stomach.
How Are Aperitifs Made?
Aperitifs are one of the most diverse categories of drinks out there, including fortified wines like sherries, aromatized wines like vermouths, liqueurs and a number of other drinks. For that reason, there’s no general method of production; the processes are as diverse as the styles and flavors of the category.
Where Are Aperitifs Made?
Aperitifs hail from around the world, explaining, in part, why the category varies so much in flavor and style. The pre-meal drinks are especially popular in France and Italy, where they’ve been made for nearly two centuries.
Italian aperitivi include everything from Prosecco and bitter liqueurs like Campari, Aperol and Luxardo Bitter to vermouths like Cinzano, Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes. In France, aperitif culture has rivaled that of Italy since the 1800s. Like Italy, the country also produces vermouth, but adds to its aperitif roster with anise-flavored drinks like pastis, as well as calvados, Champagne and aromatized wine like Lillet.
Throughout the rest of Europe, aperitifs vary even more widely by country and region. Sherry reigns in Spain, where it’s made in the southern Andalucia region. And in Greece, ouzo, which is flavored with anise and traditionally mixed with water, similar to absinthe, is the popular choice. Aperitifs like vermouth and bitter liqueurs are also made in the United States and in other countries, often highlighting local ingredients in their infusions.
How Do Aperitifs Stimulate Appetite?
Aperitifs are designed to get you ready for a meal, so they tend to be light and dry to avoid filling you up. Many are relatively low in alcohol so that you won’t get too drunk on an empty stomach before dinner (though there are plenty of full-proof options for those who prefer a decent buzz), but provide enough alcohol to give you a hankering for food.
Some aperitifs are packed with herbs and spices giving them a bitter taste (that’s usually balanced with sweeter notes), but this complex flavor isn’t just because some old Europeans thought the dry, vegetal and bitter flavors tasted good. The included medicinal herbs are thought to stimulate your digestive tract and get your stomach juices flowing, while bitter flavors boost hunger. As any lover of bar food knows, a little booze also heightens the sensations of eating, so an aperitif also makes the meal to come more enjoyable.
Bitters and Herbal Liqueurs: Aperitif liqueurs come in a range of styles. Some are super low-proof varieties, while others, also known as amari in Italy, pack nearly twice the punch and bitterness. The recipes for a vast majority of these are kept under lock and key; only a select few people in the world are privy to the minute details of their processes. Most, however, are made by infusing wine or spirits with herbs, roots, spices, citrus and other ingredients, and then adding sweetener to make them palatable. Examples: Campari, Aperol, Luxardo Bitter.
Fortified Wine: This style of aperitif is made by fortifying wine with a spirit to give it a richer flavor and more of a punch. These wines are most often fortified with brandy after fermentation, and they can be aged. For instance, sherry is aged using the solera process, in which fractional blending is used to mix various ages of the fortified wine over time to achieve the perfect blend. Examples: Fino and Manzanilla sherries, dry Madeira.