You could think of aperitivo hour as being akin to happy hour here in the States—but that’s oversimplifying things. In Italy, France, and Spain, there’s an art to aperitivo hours, which includes pairing low ABV tipples that are often bitter and herbaceous with snacks like marinated olives and crostini topped with cured meats and soft cheeses. While amaro (digestifs) are darker and richer—running the gamut from citrusy and herbaceous to minty and medicinal—the best apertifs are typically on the lighter end of the spectrum and have a bitter quality.
That bitterness is to stimulate your appetite (or kick-start digestion). There’s some science behind it: “In nature, bitterness is a warning sign for poison,” says Tad Carducci, bartender and director of outreach and engagement for Gruppo Montenegro. “The brain tells the digestive system to get it out, so blood rushes to the stomach, you salivate and, in turn, it makes you hungry.”
Pre-meal drinks can range from wine to vermouth with soda to classic cocktails like negronis and spritzes. Over the last couple of decades, aperitivo hour has gained popularity in the states with Campari and Aperol bar staples.
Whether you’re starting your own aperitivo hour tradition at home or looking to order a pre-dinner cocktail, say cin cin to the best aperitifs, according to bartenders.
Best Apertifs to Sip Before Dinner
1. Select Aperitivo
The OG Venetian spritz is said to have been made with Select Aperitivo, a ruby-red aperitivo. Interestingly enough, in the ’50s, its hallmark color was derived from beetles, but has since been replaced with vegetable dye (much to our relief). The process—sourcing, procuring, maceration, blending, aging—takes about nine months, and the end result is wonderfully complex. Menthol and pine on the nose give way to citrus fruit, juniper, clove, and rhubarb. While the original spritz originated in the 1900s as watered-down wine, Italians’ taste for bitter spiked in the ’60s, making this an incredibly popular before-dinner bev, says Carducci. Enjoy it as is, or add to a paloma, negroni, or Americano.
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