What is an Aperitif?

What is an Apéritif?

Some of the lingo that’s used in the alcoholic beverage industry can be a bit confusing to a newcomer or even a person who’s familiar with things such as beer, wine, and cocktails. An apéritif is one of those words that get used quite often but funnily enough, not very many people know what it actually means. Most people with a solid knowledge of fine alcoholic drinks claim that the aperitif is simply a drink that is consumed before a meal. However, there is actually much more to it than that; therefore, here we will explain what an aperitif is and when it should be taken and we will conclude the mini-lesson with our top five choices of aperitifs.

How to Say It

First of all however, a pronunciation lesson is needed. Apéritif comes from the French language and is pronounced “a-pair-ee-TEEF”, not “AA-peratif” or “a-PER-ative”. Practice saying the word out loud a few times. You don’t need to pronounce it like you’re from Paris; just remember to stress the word on the last syllable and you’ll be fine in any tony restaurant or bar.

What it Is

An aperitif is indeed an alcoholic beverage that is served before a meal; however, it isn’t any old drink. It must be an alcoholic drink that is specifically consumed to stimulate the appetite. In other words, it’s a drink that will make you feel hungry or will prepare you for a meal. In some cases, the word apéritif may refer to a small snack that is served before a main meal; however, in most English-speaking situations, apéritif refers to the drink, and “appetizer” refers to the small snack.

The word comes from the Latin verb aperire which means “to open”. By consuming a light alcoholic beverage before a meal, you are in fact, “opening” your appetite.

Apéritifs are usually light-bodied and do not contain heavy ingredients such as cream, eggs, or excessive amounts of sugar which would kill an appetite and make a person feel “stuffed.” Still, dry, and light white wines can be used as a before-dinner drink and are a popular choice.

A Brief History

Apéritifs were introduced to the world as a specific drink in 1846, when French chemist Joseph Dubonnet, as a way to deliver the incredibly bitter malaria-fighting chemical quinine in the most pleasant manner possible, developed a wine-based drink flavored with spices and herbs to mask the bitterness. The resulting beverage was so pleasant, that Dubonnet is still a very popular drink to this day and has ardent aficionados all around the globe.

However, before 1846, aperitifs were being consumed in Italy since the 1700’s. Vermouth was developed in Turin by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in 1786, and present day vermouth brands that are still popular are Martini, Cinzano, Dolin, and Noilly Prat. By the 1900’s, apéritifs were common everywhere; the trend had even crossed over to North America.

It must be said that apéritifs in Spain and some parts of Latin America have been around for centuries; or in the case of Spain, possibly for over a millennia. In the Iberian Peninsula, it has been a tradition for eons to have a light drink before a meal, and the drink is almost always accompanied by a snack. This drink-and-snack tradition is known by its Spanish-language name of tapas.

Common Types

The types of apéritif are incredibly varied. The most popular are fortified wines such as Madeira, Sherry, or white Port wine; some liqueurs are also used as apéritifs, and many people, especially in the United States, like to have white wine or champagne before a “fancy” meal.

In France, some of the common apéritifs are pastis, which is taken before meals in the southern part of the country, Calvados brandy is a favorite in Normandy, and Crémant D’Alsace, a type of sparkling white wine, is taken in the eastern regions. Champagne and Cognac are also frequently served in homes as dinner apéritifs. Kir cocktails, the recipe for which is below, are famous in France and are becoming more well-known in North America. Young, fresh red wines like Beaujolais Nouveaux can also be used as pre-dinner drinks.

In Italy, bitters (alcoholic beverages that are herbal in nature with a bitter taste) such as Cinzano, Campari, Byrrh, Salers and Suze are often used as before-dinner drinks. Vermouth and amaro are also popular items in bars and in homes alike.

In Greece, a popular and almost iconic drink to have before eating a meal is ouzo, an anise-flavored beverage, while in the Eastern Mediterranean nations of Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, arak is the apéritif of choice.
Our Top Five Picks
If you’ve never had an apéritif before, we recommend these top five to try:

1. Dubonnet Pronounced “doo- bon-NAY”, this beverage has been a favorite for over a hundred and fifty years now with people on both sides of the Atlantic. Sweet, herbal flavored and with a rather delightful hint of bitterness, a glass of Dubonnet on the rocks is the ideal way to start a dinner party with friends.

2. Kir cocktail This refreshing pre-dinner beverage is flavorful without being overpowering and has the power to make you enjoy your food even more. It’s easy to make: Simply pour an ounce or two of blackcurrant liqueur in a champagne flute, and fill the glass with a light white wine. To make a Kir Royale, use sparkling white.

3. Pastis This apéritif is clear and anis flavored; however, it is usually taken with water added to it, which will change the color to a milky white. If ice is desired, it should be added after the water has been poured into the glass or else the consistency will change; the cold will crystallize the anethole present in the liquor.

4. Campari and Soda Campari is one of Italy’s most famous bitters, and while it may be too bitter to drink on its own and has been described as “an acquired taste”, when it is mixed with soda water or even sparkling water it develops into something quite sublime.

5. Sherry A beautiful fortified wine from the Jerez region of Andalusia in southern Spain, a Sherry is like an amplified version of a great white wine. A must-have if you’ve never tried it before.

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