Aperitivo hour—that magical time when imbibers unwind with low-proof cocktails before an evening unfolds—is a ritual that continues to spread across America. “Derived from the Latin, aperire, apéritifs are meant “to open” both the appetite and the evening,” says Rebekah Peppler, author of Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way. Typically, “light, low-alcohol drinks that skew bitter and/or bubbly help do just that.”
Taking inspiration from French, Italian and Spanish traditions, in the U.S., drinks like the Negroni, Americano and Spritz have become staples of aperitif hour, but many bartenders are finding ways to introduce variety to the ritual, particularly seasonality (think swapping out Aperol for Cynar in a spritz).
For Peppler, living in Paris helped her rethink aperitifs. “I realized that by limiting the idea of a before-dinner drink to a season or specific style of drink, you’re missing out on the inclusive beauty that is l’heure de l’apéritif,” she says. In Aperitif, Peppler organizes recipe chapters by temperature to put the focus on seasonality. “In summer, we apéro outside as often as we can—lined up on the canal, a park, sidewalk café, someone’s balcony. When the weather shifts, I host at home more and more,” she says. Adonis cocktails take the place of sherry tonics, and she tends to switch from Lillet Blanc to Lillet Rouge. “Bottles of cider become more frequent, I bake off larger batches of gougères. We take trips to a friend’s home in Normandy and make rounds of the cocktail named after the house—L’Angeliere—with local cider, vermouth, and muddled lemon, brown sugar, and bitters. If summer is when l’apéritif flourishes, then autumn is when it roots.”
Like Peppler, Kate Hawkins, author of Aperitif: A Spirited Guide to the Drinks, History and Culture of the Aperitif, switches up her aperitivo game with the seasons. “In the summer, we all look for things to quench our thirst; in winter it seems more fitting to go for something shorter that gives us warmth from the alcohol,” she says. As days get shorter, Hawkings tends to drink vermouths straight from the fridge rather than lengthening them with soda or tonic as she does in the summer (or she might reach for an Americano Shandy instead of the classic recipe). “It makes perfect sense to go for something warming in the winter, so look towards things that veer towards spices rather than citrus in their flavor profiles.”
At Dante, New York’s destination for all things aperitif, Naren Young incorporates at least one seasonal riff on the bar’s Negroni Sessions menu. Meanwhile, in Seattle Damn the Weather serves a Winter Spritz as seasons change, and in Chicago, Monteverde serves the Arancia Spritz, a mix of sweet vermouth, dry orange curaçao, club soda and Prosecco. At Iter, a cocktail bar in Milan’s Navigli neighborhood, Nico Scarnera’s Lucano #2 pairs amaro and cinnamon spice with lime juice and gin, and the Ra-Barbara from Barnum Cafe in Rome takes the edge off chilly temps with its herbaceous mix of bitter Strega and smoky Zucca.
Whatever the season, Peppler says aperitivo hour should always be easy. “The perfect apéritif is whatever is delicious to you and easiest to get from bottle to glass. The first priority is that it shouldn’t be complicated or take too much effort.”
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