Drinks

Kick Up Your Summer Cocktail Game With These 11 Aperitivi and Aperitifs

Long summer evenings are the ideal time to enjoy low-APV aromatized wines, vermouths, and liqueurs. These are the bottles worth adding to your bar cart.

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The European tradition of enlivening your palate with a well-made aperitivo is a ritual worth exploring any time of year. But the balmy days of summer are the perfect pairing for the icy effervescence of botanical-infused fortified wines and liqueurs. Not to mention, if you’re interested in joining the growing ranks of the low-ABV cocktail movement, aperitivo bottles have a much lower proof than hard alcohol —16%-25% ABV versus 40%-50% — so you can be more present to enjoy the long summer evenings.

Melissa Watson, the social media manager and self-proclaimed “Cocktail Nerd” at the San Francisco spirits shop Bitters and Bottles (she’s also known on Instagram as Negroni Queen) loves the concept of Aperitivo Hour in lieu of Happy Hour.

“In the States, we tend to see Happy Hour as celebrating ‘Thank god, work is over!’ but the European approach is more about kicking off a lovely evening,” says Watson. “That's even what the word translates to: The Italian verb aprire means ‘to open,’ and you're opening your evening but you're also opening your appetite.”

Watson embraces simplicity with her Aperitivo Hour. “A simple approach I fall back on is things that go well with club soda and/or sparkling wine,” she says. “This might be Campari, a light-bodied amaro like Cynar, or it could be vermouth or another aperitif wine. A few ice cubes, a citrus twist, maybe a decorative swizzle stick or straw, and a simple afternoon beverage can feel so special.”

Aperitivi are the cultural antithesis of taking shots to kick off the night: One inspires a sophisticated meal while the other compels you to avoid food until you face plant into some Taco Bell at 2 am. “Drinks should be light to start warming up taste buds, and bittersweet botanicals like gentian get the appetite going, literally making you salivate,” says Watson.

So much goes into making these liqueurs, aromatized wines, and vermouths — secret family recipes composed of dozens of botanicals, masterful blending, and in some cases barrel aging —that they’re already cocktails in a bottle with little need for embellishment.

As I was told by Nicola Olianas, Global Ambassador of Branca, which produces some of the finest aperitivi in the world: “These are not just ingredients, they are products in the same way that bread is not just an ingredient for panini.”

Here, then, are the aperitivi and aperitifs to become familiar with.

Wine-Based Aperitivi and Aperitifs

Wine-based aperitivi (in Italian) and their French counterparts, Aperitifs, must be refrigerated after opening and generally should be consumed within 1-3 months of opening. Most people will read this and ponder the warm bottle of vermouth they’ve had in a drawer or on a shelf since the last time they had a martini or Manhattan. Toss it. Consider buying 375ml bottles of vermouth unless you can go through a full 750ml bottle within a couple of months. But for Aperitif wines like Lillet, you’ll most certainly finish off any bottle with ease.

Spirits-Based Aperitivi

Spirits-based liqueurs don’t need to be refrigerated after opening, so if you’re someone who dabbles in aperitivo life and won’t drink through a bottle of vermouth in a three-month period, opting for one of these may be a better option.

3 Apperitivo Cocktails to Drink This Summer

1. Negroni Sbagliato (Low ABV Style)

The Negroni Sbagliato is Watson’s favorite––a drink that alters a Negroni by substituting prosecco for gin. “Some people like to keep it equal parts prosecco, Campari, and sweet vermouth, but the option to lengthen it out with another part or two of prosecco lightens and brightens, and helps keeps the ABV in check.”

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 3 ounces prosecco

2. Aperol Spritz

The Aperol Spritz is wildly popular, but it’s best to use a good DOCG Prosecco, and with both of the cocktails below, it’s fun to also experiment with other aperitivo options besides Aperol, such as Select, Bordiga, Cappelletti, or Luxardo Aperitivo.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces of prosecco
  • 1 ounce Aperol
  • 2 ounces soda
  • Orange twist garnish

3. The Americano

Try switching it up for a Bianco version of the Americano, using the same proportions but with white vermouth, gentian liqueur such as Suze or Salers Aperitif, or the Italian version, Bernard Genzianella, and top with soda and a lemon twist.

Ingredients