8 Delicious Types of Aperitifs to Freshen Up Your Next Happy Hour
The classic aperitifs to look for and how to sip them.
The closest thing we have in the U.S. to Europe's aperitif culture is happy hour, a drink shortly after work with friends. In places like France and Italy, the post-work drink is often an aperitif, a wine, wine relative, or liqueur that comes with its own regional flavors and customs. The languid hour of meeting with friends to drink an aperitif is meant to carry you through the evening and to ready your body (and mind) for dinner.
Aperitifs vary from place to place, from generation to generation. If you want to sip an aperitif wherever you are, consider one of these time-tested staples.
This wine-based aperitif from Bordeaux comes in a few versions, most notably white and rosé. Each is predominantly wine cut with a small portion of macerated liqueur for a little something else. Fished cold from the fridge, Lillet Blanc is clean and bright. Sip it chilled with a slice of orange. At about 17 percent ABV, it is on the lighter side. You can up the ante with a Lillet-inflected Vesper, James Bond’s favorite riff on the martini.
Vermouth is a broad, ancient category of fortified wine, meaning a wine base blended with a bit of a distilled spirit. There are many kinds of vermouth, even beyond the popular sweet and dry. Sweet can pack some assertive sugariness. Dry can let its botanicals shine. In Spain, a bastion of vermouth culture, it can be sipped on the rocks with a twist and an olive, often topped off with a pour of carbonated water. One of our favorite uses for vermouth? The Manhattan.
The Anis Family
The spicy warmth of licorice finds its way into aperitifs across the Mediterranean. There are many regional variations on anis aperitifs. One, the popular Greek liqueur Ouzo uses a base made from grapes (similar to grappa) and packs a punch at near-spirit levels of ABV. Pastis, widely popular in France, also carries a distinct anise signature. Both are slightly sweet—and make for good, classic drinking when poured over ice and diluted with water.
A bright ruby color and unabashedly bitter, Campari is a cornerstone of Italy’s aperitivo culture and key component of numerous cocktails. Like other Italian amari, Campari is concocted from a neutral base infused with a motley host of secret ingredients, like barks, peels, herbs, and spices. Campari can be enjoyed with little but chilled soda. Most famously, it anchors a whole family tree of Italian cocktails that includes standouts like the Americano, negroni, negroni sbagliato, and boulevardier.
Light and fruity with a soft bitterness, Aperol is the business ingredient in one of Italy’s most beloved libations: The Aperol spritz. Served in bulbous glasses with orange wheels, the Aperol spritz unites its namesake aperitivo, Prosecco, and club soda. The neon cocktail has Venetian origins. Today, people sip Aperol spritzes from Paris to Los Angeles. Look for the aperitif, too, in the Paper Plane, a modern-classic cocktail riffed from the Last Word.
Created in just 2007, St-Germain already has a veteran aperitif reputation. The French liqueur hums with gentle florals, its delicate flavors carefully drawn out from elderflowers. Though it can be sipped on the rocks, St-Germain might be more commonly enjoyed mixed with wine, sometimes sparkling wine, and topped with a lemon wedge.
Though England isn’t known for aperitifs, it has developed its own takes on the tradition, like Pimm’s No. 1. First blended some 160 years ago, the herbal, tangy, red-tinted liqueur has been macerated with a secret lineup of ingredients, including peels and quinine. It is most famously part of the Pimm’s Cup, a recipe that lengthens the vibrant elixir with lemonade into a lavishly garnished, nicely drinkable cocktail.
The dark, bitter, sweetly rooty Italian amaro Cynar can be sipped before or after meals. One of its main ingredients is the artichoke, though the enigmatic tangle of flavors that lurk in the cola-black liquid hide any strong notes of the vegetable. Giving Cynar the spritz treatment, meaning thinning it with chilled soda or sparkling wine, softens its botanical edge, tempers its bitterness, and makes it more of a languid slow-sipper—exactly what you want when sitting down to an aperitif.