Everything You Need to Know About Apéritifs, from What They Are to How to Serve Them
White Claw slushies are so 2020. This summer, apéritifs are having a moment, and we have a few theories as to why. Perhaps as we become more aware of what’s in the stuff we eat and drink, many imbibers are turning to apéritifs made with whole ingredients, like fruits and herbs. Maybe it’s that apéritifs are just as refreshing as a vodka soda, but don’t come with the same booziness or hangover. We’re also betting that the slew of new boutique spirit brands popping up has something to do with the libation’s rise in popularity. Whatever the reason, we’re so here for the summer of the apéritif. Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is an Apéritif?
An apéritif is a type of spirit that’s typically made from a mix of fruits, herbs, roots and botanicals. Odds are you’ve tried one mixed in a fancy cocktail without even knowing it (do Campari or Aperol ring a bell?). They tend to be lower in alcohol than core spirits like vodka, tequila and whiskey, but higher in alcohol than most beer and wine. Their taste can vary from bitter to sweet, but they’re typically herbaceous and complex across the board.
The Difference Between Apéritif vs. Digestif
As their names imply in French, an apéritif is meant to be consumed before a meal to stimulate the appetite, while a digestif is served after a meal to aid digestion. Because sugar and alcohol can dull the taste buds and appetite, apéritifs tend to be less boozy and sugary than digestifs. Here, the term can be used interchangeably for singular apéritifs (like dry vermouth) and cocktails containing apéritifs (like a martini made with dry vermouth). The same goes for digestifs: The word can be used for individual spirits, like Fernet Branca, cocktails that include such spirits or libations that can aid in digestion after a meal, like port, brandy or bourbon.
Types of Apéritifs
Here are a handful of big-brand apéritifs that you can find at your local liquor store or bar:
- Aperol: The iconic Aperol spritz wouldn’t exist without it. Aperol is a bitter Italian libation mainly made from gentian (a trumpet-shaped flower), rhubarb and cinchona (another type of flowering plant). It has a bitter, citrusy, fruity taste—think grapefruit or orange
- Campari: Made by the same producers as Aperol, Campari is a an Italian apéritif beloved for its bittersweet flavor with notes of citrus, cherry and warm spices, like cinnamon and clove. It’s made from a slew of herbs, barks and plants.
- Lillet: It’s a wine-based French apéritif spiked with brandy and made with fruit and herbs. Odds are you’ve had a cocktail made with Lillet Blanc, but did you know there’s also a Rouge variety? Lillet Blanc tastes herbaceous, honeyed and bittersweet, while Lillet Rouge is spicier and fruitier.
- Ouzo: One of many spirits in the anise family (like pastis and sambuca), this Greek sipper tastes like licorice.
- Pimm’s: The Pimm’s Cup cocktail is famous for a reason…that reason being the herbal, bitter, tangy English apéritif it gets its name from. It’s gin-based and infused with herbs and spices.
- St-Germain: This French elderflower liqueur can give a ton of cocktails a floral, light je ne sais quoi. It’s herbal and sweet without being too sugary.
- Vermouth: Both dry and sweet vermouth have a ton of uses, but they’re likely most often consumed in the martini and Manhattan, respectively. Both are fortified wines made with distilled alcohol, herbs, spices, roots and botanicals. Dry vermouth tastes bitter while sweet vermouth is fruitier, spicier and more full-bodied.
How to Drink Apéritifs
It’s really up to you. Apéritifs can be sipped solo on the rocks, added to other cocktails with more potent spirits or, our personal favorite, turned into spritzes with a dash of sparkling water or wine. It all comes down to your preferences and needs. If you want something low in alcohol, drink it straight or as a spritzer. If you want the apéritif to act as a flavoring element rather than the main ingredient, bust out the mixer and make a cocktail.
Apéritif Cocktail Recipes
If you’ve never shaken up an apéritif-based libation before, allow us to guide you. Here are five recipes made with popular apéritifs that are totally worth trying this summer.
2. Big-Batch Pink Negronis
Both Campari and Lillet Blanc make this floral libation come to life. The Lillet makes it sweeter and lighter than an old-school negroni. Garnish each drink with lemon and edible flowers to wow your guests.
3. Ruby Vermouth Spritzers
Vermouth can do so much more than martinis, and this wintry take on a spritzer is proof. Feel free to up the citrusy ante by topping each drink with fresh grapefruit juice.
Our Favorite Apéritifs
If you’d rather skip the recipe and play bartender, add one (or um, all) of these apéritifs to your bar cart. Instead of leaning on big-brand spirits, turn to these newer offerings made with quality ingredients. Some of them are even alcohol-free, meaning they’ll never give you a pesky hangover.
Haus is a line of all-natural apéritifs that are mild enough to sip on all evening, but still potent enough to help you unwind. They’re made with a fraction of the sugar of traditional apéritifs and have modest ABVs of 18 to 20 percent, so you’re less likely to get a headache after a couple drinks. Made with fruits, herbs and botanicals, Haus’s farm-to-bottle products are naturally fermented and only contain a small amount of naturally occurring sulfites. We recommend the newly launched Spritz Duo, a curated pair of apéritifs that, with the help of prosecco and sparkling water, make for next-level spritzers.
When you want to sip something fancy without committing to a potential headache or hangover, Ghia's got your back. The apéritif is alcohol-free and made with botanical ingredients and medicinal plants that have been used to boost energy and decrease stress for centuries. In addition to a base of Riesling white grape juice concentrate, Ghia contains herbs known to soothe the mind and body (like gentian root and acacia), so you'll be kicked back and relaxed at first sip. Even better, it’s made with no added sugar and only contains 3 grams of natural sugar per serving.
3. Three Spirit Drinks Botanical Elixirs
Virgin apéritifs FTW. When you’re in the mood for a fancy cocktail (or in a social situation where you’d love a drink in your hand, but aren’t up for drinking), turn to Three Spirit’s line of elixirs made with functional plants and active compounds that your mind, body and palate will love. They’re made with energizing ingredients and botanical extracts, plus are free of artificial flavors. The three-pack includes Livener (a fruity, spicy combo of berries, guava, watermelon and ginger, plus a bit of caffeine), Social (an herbal sipper made with yerba mate and lion’s mane mushroom that has notes of apple and cacao) and Nightcap (a bright, lemony spirit loaded with soothing adaptogens and mellow aromatics like vanilla and hazelnut).