Whet your appetite with these refreshing drinks from expert Alice Lascelles
Aperitifs take many forms, but they all started life with the same purpose, which was to kick-start the digestion before a meal (the word comes from the Latin for ‘to open’, aperire). Bitter-sweet, herbal, often sparkling, and usually a bit lighter than a normal cocktail, aperitifs are meant to be refreshing – they should really get your senses on their toes. The Italians are the masters of the aperitif (or ‘aperitivo’), but Spain, France and Portugal all have strong traditions too. Campari and Aperol are two well-known aperitif ingredients, but each country has its own specialities, from the Cap Corse Mattei quinquina wines of Corsica and the vermouths of Spain, to Lillet, a fruity aperitif from Bordeaux. Every time I travel I discover a new one.
I love aperitifs because they’re delicious, but also because they’re really easy to make. They rarely require a cocktail shaker and most are very happy in a big wine glass or a tumbler. And they can usually be thrown together by eye – you won’t see a bartender in Italy use a measure, ever! They’re a godsend for the lazy host.
It’s no surprise, given all this, that aperitifs are now having a moment. So, whether you’re hosting a barbecue, looking for a stylish sundowner, or simply want something nice to sip in the garden on a warm evening, make sure you try one of these this summer…
Amer Picon & beer
Pour 25ml Amer Picon into a tall glass (ideally frozen), add 125ml pilsner or wheat beer and garnish with an orange slice
Amer Picon is a bitter orange liqueur that you’ll see on the shelves of little local bars all over France. It’s traditionally mixed with pilsner beer or wheat beer, to make a sort of souped-up shandy called a Picon bière. But you could have a lot of fun pairing it with the multitude of new craft beers which are now on the market. A really lip-smacking aperitif that will appeal to those who like their drinks on the dry side.
Stir 25ml red vermouth and 25ml Campari with 75ml chilled prosecco in a big wine glass or rocks glass with some ice and garnish with an orange slice
Legend has it that this sparkling aperitivo – which literally translates as ‘bungled Negroni’
– was created when a Milanese bartender accidentally mixed a Negroni with prosecco instead of gin. I don’t know if this is true, but these days the ruby-coloured Negroni sbagliato is one of my favourite party drinks. If I’ve got a lot of people coming over I’ll pre-mix a few jugfuls and chill them in the fridge, so I’m not stuck in the kitchen all night mixing cocktails. If you want to dial back the bitterness a bit, just add a little more prosecco.
White port & tonic
Pour 75ml white port into a tall glass, top with 100ml chilled tonic water and add a lemon slice or twist
If you spend any time in the Douro Valley, the home of Portugal’s port industry, you’ll end up sipping one of these – it’s the quintessential Portuguese sundowner. White port, which is made with white rather than red grapes, has a light fruitiness, while the tonic gives it that allimportant bitter edge. Two white ports that are relatively widely available are Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port and Grahams Fine White Port. A really stylish alternative to the G&T that’s becoming increasingly trendy in the UK.
Vermouth over ice
Pour 75ml chilled vermouth over ice in a rocks glass, and add a citrus slice or citrus twist – orange, lemon or grapefruit are all good
Vermouth can be served so many ways – with prosecco, with tonic, with soda, in cocktails. But in Italy and Spain, this mix of wine, spirit and botanicals is most often sipped neat, over ice, with a slice of citrus. And there’s no better way to enjoy vermouth’s kaleidoscope of flavours – it’s a ready-made cocktail in a bottle. Vermouth comes in many different styles – some of my current favourites include the sweet white Lustau Blanco from Spain, Noilly Prat Dry from France, the rich red Sacred Spiced Vermouth from England and Martini Reserva Speciale Ambrato, an amber vermouth from Italy.
Mix 75ml prosecco/white wine, 50ml Aperol and 25ml soda water in a large wine glass with some ice, a green olive and a slice of lemon
Who doesn’t love an Aperol spritz? Venice’s signature drink has conquered the world in the last few years, but familiarity hasn’t made it any less delicious. The recipe for Aperol is a secret but bitter herbs, roots and citrus peels are key to this bright orange liqueur, which is like a milder version of Campari. For a really authentic spritz, make sure you include the green olive – it may sound like a strange garnish, but that savoury note creates a really appetising counterpoint to the sweetness of the liqueur.
Alice Lascelles is a drinks columnist for the Financial Times and the author of Ten Cocktails: The Art of Convivial
Drinking (£16.99, Saltyard). @alicelascelles