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All About Aperitifs

Aperitifs are big right now, with rediscovered classic mixes and new drinks specifically designed as aperitifs. Here's our lowdown…

Apéritif is a French word meaning pre-dinner drinks, or literally 'appetizer'.

There are traditional French aperitifs like Kirs (Blackcurrant liqueur in White Wine), Pineau (a liqueur made with eau de vie distilled grape juice and fresh grape juice), Pastis with water, or - rather surprisingly - cheap Scotch Whisky, which is served in massive measures without ice. If you're invited for 'aperos', there'll be crisps and slices of dried sausage to nibble with the drinks, and the gathering will often go on until late, be very boozy, and the conversation will usually be about food. Often the dinner for which you're supposed to be stimulating your appetite will be forgotten.

Italian aperitivos are drunk religiously at 6pm, and are almost always a sparkling Spritz cocktail of a bitter liqueur like Campari or Aperol (bitter drinks stimulate the appetite) mixed with Prosecco and soda water. Italians will have one or two of these with substantial nibbles, then have a break and eat dinner later.

Aperol Spritz

Aperol Spritz at Augustus Harris in Covent Garden, courtesy of Londonist

Brits are searching around to create their own aperitif traditions, and are looking to other aperitif cultures for guidance and inspiration. This was demonstrated by sales of Campari in the UK, which soared by 12.5% in the first half of 2014. The company put the rise down to the increased popularity of aperitifs and a resurgence of classic cocktails that contain bittersweet liqueurs, like the Negroni.

Julka Villa, a senior director at Gruppo Campari, told Spirits Business, “what I’m seeing more and more around the world is generally Anglo Saxon cultures are acquiring more characteristics of the aperitif similar to the Mediterranean. We are seeing it grow much more than we could have expected five years ago; aperitifs are gathering momentum and growing together with the spreading of cocktail culture."

In the UK, we traditionally like bubbly things before dinner - G&T, sparkling wine (the French tend to drink fizzy wine and Champagne with dessert, by the way) and beer - as well as strong non-sparkling classic cocktails like Martinis, Old Fashioneds and Negronis. However, it's never been formalised here as a 'thing' until recently. It's been a custom for dinner parties and restaurant outings, but now it's an occasion in it's own right, and a good excuse for creating a new drinking ritual.

Kamm & Sons is a new British bitter liqueur, that tastes similar to Campari but it's bright yellow. It's specifically designed to stimulate your appetite, and is made with ginseng among other things. It was created for the British aperitif. Gregg Wallace also finds that it's "the ultimate hangover cure".

Regal Rogue aperitivos

Another innovation that's based on Italian drinks is the Australian Vermouth brand Regal Rogue. It's the first Australian Vermouth, and is made with Aussie wine and botanicals. The red one tastes similar to Martini Rosso, and it's being marketed as an aperitif drink to have straight with ice. Company owner Mark Ward identified this new cultural feature of British life as an opportunity for creating a calling for his drinks, and getting in there at the beginning of the trend, when people are looking for aperitif suggestions.

The latest aperitif offering is a UK made Limoncello served with Tonic Water. The guys from Pizza Pilgrims (Soho, London) got together with the Chase Distillery to create Pococello - made with Chase's English spirit and whole fragrant Amalfi lemons, it has half the sugar of traditional Limoncello. Pococello & Tonic is refreshing, slightly bitter, bubbly and makes your mouth water - an ideal apero.

Pococello & Tonic

In future maybe Kamm & Sons, Regal Rogue and Pococello & Tonic will be seen chiefly as aperitif drinks in the UK. It will be interesting to see what other new aperitif drinks come onto the market in the next couple of years...