Fixing aperitifs

Those who paid rapt attention in latin lessons will of course know that aperitif comes from the latin word ‘aperire’ – meaning ‘to open’.  An aperitif is intended to open up the appetite and stimulate the taste buds, so these are the drinks to serve to your guests just before you eat. Maybe serve them with some light snacks, but nothing too much because the whole point of the aperitif is that the real food is just around the corner and it’s going to get everyone’s juices going for it.

The amounts below will mix one drink.  Not because I wish to encourage you to drink alone, but in case you’re mixing different drinks for different people.

‘Bitters’ because the herbs used to make them are what give these (often pretty potently) alcoholic drinks their bitter or bittersweet flavours.  And it’s those flavours which are going to kickstart the tastebuds.

Campari – the colour of my mother’s lipstick, a glorious orangey red.  For my dear friend Joanna, just the mention of it takes her back to teenage summers and memories of her mother sipping her favourite drink. And I think that sipping is really all you can do, as its bitterness and the sharpness of grapefruit come through quite strongly. It’s a drink to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Campari Soda – as cold as cold can be, but ideally you want to achieve that without ice as that will dilute the flavours. To achieve the coldness you’re after, put the glass (an old-fashioned glass) and the bottle in the freezer for at least half an hour before mixing your aperitif.  Use two parts Campari to one part soda water, and garnish with a slice of orange. What the soda does is release the Campari’s flavours, so even just a splash of it will make for a better drink than having it neat.  That’s how the Italians, who created Campari, tend to take it.

Or use your Campari to make a cocktail aperitif:
The Negroni is equal parts of gin, Campari and Cinzano Rosso (a red vermouth). Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice and then pour over one measure of gin.  Add one measure each of Campari and Cinzano, stir, and garnish with a slice of orange.

An Americano is the same as the Negroni but with soda water instead of gin. That will make it just a little less boozy, but what the soda is really doing again is releasing the flavours of the other ingredients. So that’s an old-fashioned glass, fill it with ice, put in one measure each of Campari and Cinzano Rosso, add in one measure of soda water, stir it together and then finish with a wedge of orange.

Aperol – shares the colour and country of Campari, but is only half (ish) as alcoholic. Its flavours are orangey and rhubarby where Campari is grapefruity.

Aperol on the rocks – fill an old-fashioned glass with ice and pour over two measures of Aperol.  Garnish with a slice of orange.

Aperol Spritz – is made up of prosecco, soda water and Aperol. If you happen to have a bottle of champagne or cava open then please do use that, but prosecco is the preference just because it is also Italian. Your ratio of prosecco to Aperol is 3:1.  Put three or four cubes of ice into an old-fashioned glass. Then add the prosecco first, followed by a splash of soda water.  Now pour in the Aperol.  Give it a stir and then finish with a slice of orange.

Pimms – is the very embodiment of English summer. You can barely swing a racket at Wimbledon or a sausage roll at a picnic without hitting a jug of it. To have as an aperitif, try tonic water or ginger ale instead of the more picnicy lemonade.  The ratio is 1 part Pimms to 3 parts of whichever mixer you’re using. Use a highball glass, put in lots of ice, then the Pimms and your mixer. Give the ingredients a stir, and top it off with a couple of mint leaves.

These are wines which have been strengthened – in their flavour and alcoholicness– by being made with the addition of a distilled spirit such as brandy.

Sherry – is always from the area of Cadiz in southern Spain or else it just isn’t sherry. And that’s not me being prissy, sherry is like champagne in that it has to come from a particular place to be called that. The sherry types which are driest and therefore most suitable as an aperitif are fino, manzanilla, manzanilla pasada and amontillado. Drink these sherries cold, maybe over a cube or two of ice, to get the most out of the flavours.

Ideally, I think it’s best to serve these sherries in a copita glass. Partly because the narrow taper enhances the sherry’s flavours, partly because that’s how the Spanish do it and if it’s good enough for them etc etc. But I can’t deny that my preference for the copita also has something to do with the cream sherry connotations of the more traditional sherry glasses which have been collecting dust in sideboards across the country for generations.

And that’s the problem when it comes to the cream sherries, by which surely we all mean Harveys Bristol Cream. They and it are still struggling to shake off the image of being the favoured christmas tipple of grannies.  That it is the bottle which she would dig around for in the back of her drinks cupboard each year and take her annual sip of. The thing is though, grannies – as ever – are smart cookies who know a thing or too. Cream sherries are lovely blends of sherries; mainly fino, amontillado, oloroso and the Pedro Ximenez which gives it its sweetness and creaminess. And they have absolutely nothing to do with dairy products.  As with the other sherries, serve as an aperitif very cold or even over ice. And make a silent toast to grannies everywhere.

Vermouth – broadly speaking comes as pale vermouths which are dry, and red vermouths which are sweeter. Any vermouth can make a terrific aperitif when served over ice in a copita or old-fashioned glass; but there are particular brands which have their own distinct identities.

Cinzano – was the name of the family who owned the herbal shop where this drink was created. How proud Senora Cinzano would have been to know that her little Giovanni and Carlo’s concoction would be still be going strong two hundred and odd years later.

There are four types of Cinzano, each based on either Italian red or white wines; and each lovely as an aperitif poured into an old-fashioned glass that has been packed with ice.  If you use the Rosso, two olives on a cocktail stick marry well with its flavours.  Otherwise, use a slice of lime or lemon to garnish.

As with Campari, soda water releases the flavours.  So to make a Cinzano Soda, fill an old-fashioned glass with ice, pour over two measures of whichever Cinzano and one of soda water. And then just enjoy this too good aperitif, suffused with herbs and spices from four continents.

Dubonnet – or ‘Things One’s Mother Definitely Did Tell One’. Whilst watching at her mother’s knee our Queen learnt that a Dubonnet before lunch can help one traverse the complexities of royal life.  The Queen Mother once left a note stipulating that, “I think that I will take 2 small bottles of Dubonnet and gin with me this morning, in case it is needed.” Cricket must have induced the need in her daughter, as the Queen once caused a bit of a flurry at Lords when she asked for a Dubonnet but one could not be readily found.

Dubonnet Rouge (as preferred by Their Royal Mothernesses) is the one to go for.

Dubonnet on the rocks – fill an old-fashioned glass with ice and pour over two measures of Dubonnet.

Dubonnet and soda – two measures of Dubonnet into a Tom Collins or highball glass.  Add a couple of ice cubes, top up with soda and stir. Finish with a slice or a twist of lemon.

The last word – as so often in life – goes to champagne.  An eternally appropriate and appreciated aperitif.

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