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Aperitifs & Digestifs
Italian limoncello liqueur. Gudrun Muenz / Shutterstock
An aperitif (uh-PAIR-uh-TEEF) is a before-dinner drink meant to stimulate the appetite. It’s also a perfect way to socialize before dinner. No one knows the exact moment in history this ritual started, but it was all the rage in the late 1700s through the early 1900s.
The two countries that have embraced aperitifs the most are France and Italy. France spells it “aperitif” and Italy spells it “aperitivo.” Today, those who like to partake of this before-dinner ritual agree and disagree on what makes a proper aperitif. The general rule is that it should be light, crisp, and refreshing.
Popular spirits drunk in aperitif cocktails, and also on their own, include Aperol, Campari, Cynar, and Pimm’s No. 1. Popular aperitif cocktails include the Pimm’s Cup, Campari and soda, and Aperol and soda.
Lovely wine-based bubbly aperitifs include champagne, prosecco, and cava.
Other light wine-based aperitifs include fino sherry, tawny port, Lillet, Lillet Rose, and light (dry) vermouths such as Cocchi Americano, Cocchi Americano Rosa, Dolin Blanc, and Noilly Prat dry.
Popular wine-based aperitif cocktails include the Champagne Cocktail, Wine Spritzer, and an Americano made with dry vermouth.
Digestifs are after-dinner drinks meant to help with digestion. Digestifs tend to be heavier and sometimes sweeter than aperitifs. No one knows when this drinking custom started, but it’s fair to assume that experimenting with beverages to help settle one’s stomach
after a large meal has been a continuous venture.
Drinking digestifs in restaurants is not popular in America, mostly because restaurants look to turn tables for maximum sales. Europeans, on the other hand, embrace digestifs. They tend to relax and linger after a large meal.
Each country tends to have its favorite digestif. In Italy it’s limoncello; Germany, schnapps; Greece, ouzo; and Mexico, anejo tequila.
Other popular digestifs include absinthe, Chartreuse, Calvados, Sambuca, aged whiskeys, anejo rum, Fernet, Grand Marnier, and B&B. Popular digestifs cocktails include the Brandy Alexander, Grasshopper, Absinthe Drip, Rusty Nail, and Sazerac.
Heavy wine-based digestifs include cream sherry, ruby port, Cognac, armagnac, grappa, pisco, and sweet vermouths such as Antica Formula Carpano, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Dolin Rouge, and Cinzano Rosso.
Popular wine-based digestif cocktails include the Manhattan, Rob Roy, Blood and Sand, Vieux Carré, and Negroni.
Fun Aperitif Facts
Up until 2006, Campari got its red color from carmine dye that comes from an insect called the Armenian cochineal. Their bodies are dried then turned into a powder and then boiled in ammonia. This ancient coloring is still used today in lipsticks, eyeshadows, ice cream, yoghurt, and many products that are pink/red in color. In America, it is required to list the ingredient on the label as carmine or cochineal extract.
The Lillet (luh-LAY) used in James Bond’s Vesper is no longer available, but the best substitute is Cocchi (ko-KEY) Americano.
Grappa and pisco are pomace spirits. Pomace (also called “must”) are the remains from wine making that includes, stems, seeds, skins, pulp, and anything else left from pressing grapes for wine. Grappa is made in Italy and pisco in Peru and Chile.
Rémy Martin’s King Louis VIII Cognac costs around $2,200 a bottle, and the bottle is made of crystal. Very high-end bars will carry it. It was seen and mentioned in the 1988 film Cocktail, Rihanna mentioned it in a 2015 song, it was mentioned on the TV show The Larry Sanders Show, and it shows up in many rap songs by artists such as Young Jeezy, Young Buck, Lil Wayne, T-Pain, and Yung Joc.