In Europe, where the culture of aperitifs was born (at least in a modern, potable sense), it is not only a ritual that is celebrated and respected by all, but it also describes that time of day when friends and family gather to drink something low in alcohol, refreshing and often somewhat bitter. These bitter elixirs – known as amari – are characterized by such iconic brands as Campari and Aperol. The aperitif hour – known to most Americans rather flippantly as ‘happy hour’ – has been lost for many years and I think is still lost to most.
The American happy hour is characterized by awful, house liquor downed with abandon by the throngs of people who pile out of their offices, just thankful that the day is over. The same scene in Europe, however, at least in my experience, is when their day is just beginning. Not to say they haven’t also been working all day, but that same scenario is epitomized by long, refreshing Aperol Spritzes (native to Venice) or Campari (from Milan), served in many guises.
Of course I’m somewhat generalizing here as aperitifs can take many forms, from dry white wine (such as Chablis, ooh yes please!), champagne and champagne cocktails, dry sherry such as fino or manzanilla, vermouth, white port, highballs, Horse’s Necks, pastis, dry Martinis, gin & tonics, the list goes on and on and on. It’s a subject I’m extremely passionate about so I was understandably excited when I was asked by Campari – probably my favorite brand on the planet – to present a seminar on this very topic at the Boston bar show, called Thirst.
It’s a small show, run out of the opulent Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, but gaining a lot of interest and respect and attracting some of the industry’s big names. My seminar was full and full of inquisitive people, most of who were not actually bartenders but rather, home enthusiasts, which is very cool. They seemed really interested in some of the techniques I was demonstrating, such as sous vide infusions, bottled and carbonated Champagne Negronis and a lovely punch made by my partner in crime for the day, local bartender Nick Korn.
Now aperitifs are back, thanks to a renewed interest from the country’s leading mixologists, many of whom have an infatuation with these low octane cocktails like I do. Not only are they delicious but they can translate into increased profits, which should be a major concern for any bar. And there are dozens of mixed drinks and cocktails that can fulfill the role of aperitif – and that is to ‘open’ the palate before a meal (from the latin aperire). During this in-depth seminar, we will cover a broad selection of them and how they can and are being used in new and exciting ways.
The word aperitif is a French one, derived from the Latin aperire, which means ‘to open’. These are those libations you want before a meal: ideally they’re not sweet at all, bone dry at times, often low in alcohol and most certainly refreshing. Since I’ve carved out a name in restaurant bars, I have a greater understanding and appreciation of offering a unique and varied list of aperitifs to my guests. Here are some pics and a few recipes of some of my all time favorite aperitifs.
I put this somewhat forgotten drink on the menu to pair specifically with a carved Iberico jamon at Bacchanal. For anyone that’s ever enjoyed some tapas in Spain knows that vermouth and sherry are the best wines in the world to drink alongside their small, salty, fatty snacks. The high acid and dry complexity of both wines cuts through the fat of the ham perfectly.
1.5 oz. amontillado sherry
1.5 oz. Noilly Prat ‘ambre’
5 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters
METHOD: Stir & strain
GLASS: Nick & Nora
GARNISH: Orange twist
UPSIDE DOWN DIRTY GIBSON
I’ve started to appreciate the old school Martini recipes that were heavy on the vermouth, often up to a 50:50 ratio. This one is a little more extreme, completely flipping the proportions of gin to vermouth, hence the verbiage ‘Upside Down’ (geddit?). This is essentially another play on the Dirty Martini, subbing a delicious house made bring from our pickled onions.
2 oz. Cinzano dry vermouth
1 oz. gin
3 dashes lemon bitters
1 barspoon of house made onion brine
METHOD: Stir & strain (no sidecar)
GLASS: Nick & Nora
GARNISH: 1 pickled onion on a skewer
I guess you could say the Chocolate Negroni has become my ‘signature’ drink over my career. It’s certainly a strange, somewhat polarizing cocktail whose flavor profile has had several people scratching their head in dismay . . . until they try it. It’s quite a remarkable combination if I do say so. This version is a slight twist that we put on the Fall menu at Bacchanal; it has the addition of a little warming black cardamom.
1 oz. gin
¾ oz. Cinzano rosso vermouth
¾ oz. Campari
¼ oz. white crème de cacao
3 dashes chocolate bitters
3 dashes black cardamom tincture
METHOD: Stir and strain on fresh ice
GLASS: Etched Rocks
GARNISH: Dehydrated orange wheel & spray of black cardamom tincture + clear plastic stirrer
This is one of the most underrated cocktails in existence. It is so elegant and with such a simple recipe. Plus it looks very pretty, especially when garnished like this with an edible pansie flower.
1.5 oz. gin
¾ oz. Combier triple sec
½ oz. Campari
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
METHOD: Shake and double strain
GLASS: Large Coupe
GARNISH: Edible pansie flower.
This is a drink I created for the opening of Bacchanal. I really like the concept behind this cocktail: every ingredient is made from grapes, even the grape frozen ice cubes. Long, dry, refreshing and acidic, a most perfect aperitif.
1 oz. Barsol ‘Mosto Verde’ Pisco
1.5 oz. white wine (gruner veltliner)
1 oz. freshly pressed green grape juice
5 dashes of verjus
¼ oz. simple syrup
METHOD: Build over frozen grape ice cubes
Add a splash of champagne & stir
GARNISH: No garnish / metal straw