“On se retrouve pour l’apéro?” “Shall we meet for a drink before dinner?” A custom of the elders, a tradition in some countries even, the aperitif has evolved with time and is now enjoying a rising popularity around the world.
International experts – Camille Vidal, brand ambassador for St~Germain originary from France, Carina Soto Velasquez of La Candelaria, Glass and Mary Celeste in Paris, Naren Young of Dante in New York, and François Monti, a Belgian cocktails and spirits writer living in Spain and author of “El gran libro del vermut” – gathered “The aperitif – A drink and a way of life” at Tales of the Cocktail 2016. I missed about half the presentation but caught up on it through the presentation graciously put online by Camille.
More than a drink: a way of life
From the latin word “aperire” meaning “to open”, the aperitif finds its origin in the Middle Ages where medicinal drinks were served before meals to stimulate people’s appetite. By extension, the word “aperitif” also signifies “to open the evening”. The aperitif is indeed more than a pre-dinner drink. As François Monti said, “it’s a moment people share”, whether with their friends, family or colleagues. Destined to “bring your palate back to life”, aperitif cocktails are usually light (low ABV) and refreshing with bright and aromatic flavours, a little on the bitter side. As the drinks open the appetite, food is always served with them and what started as pre-dinner nibbles can turn into a full meal lasting the whole evening. In French, the word “apéritif” designates the drink, the nibbles that accompany it and the moment of conviviality.
While many bars specifically dedicated to aperitif are opening around the world, the aperitif culture is different in each country. In France wine is usually served for apéritif and is accompanied by peanuts, olives, maybe cheese and charcuterie. In Spain people will enjoy their drinks – often sangria or vermouth based cocktails – with tapas; the same in Portugal with the exception that port might be the cocktail’s base ingredient. In Italy, Aperol Spritz is a favourite aperitif drink. It will also be served with antipasti. “That’s the Mediterranean culture: you always have food with your drinks”, said Carina. “The food culture comes from wine bars. We now translate it in our cocktail bars.” In the USA, the aperitif is typically associated with happy hour and discounted beverages.
A resurgent popularity
Aperitif is gaining in popularity, a change that can be explained by several factors. First, “consumption has changed” said Carina. “There are more and more freelancers. People don’t work fixed Monday to Friday schedules with weekends only on Friday and Saturday. They also don’t have to work from a certain time to another. They go out everyday now and look for low ABV cocktails. In France, the apéritif is at earlier hours on weekdays than on weekends. Sometimes it even starts at lunch time. The changes in the work organization has had an effect on the evolution of aperitif culture.” Camille concurred: “People will come earlier and stay longer and order food. Maybe they’ll stay for dinner.”
The low ABV trend
According to Naren, “people eat and drink healthy now”. A change that has also helped the aperitif culture and the search for low proof drinks. Camille agreed with him: “People want to drink and eat better. They are more conscious about their bodies.”
“Entire sections of menus are now dedicated to low ABV cocktails”, Naren observed. “Low ABV is pretty much the concept of our menu at Dante. We have 20-30 drinks so we’re pretty much sure we’ll have something for your taste. We add shrubs, salts and herbs. They open the palate and go well with food.”
Carina also shared her experience with low proof drinks: “We receive a lot of demand from restaurants to help them with low ABV cocktails because they are quite easy to make and require less infrastructure than cocktails. There is no need for a bartender to make them. All in all they’re less costly and easier to make than regular cocktails. We have low ABV cocktails, apéritifs, in all our venues.”
Well, I don’t know about you but, after hearing and writing about how aperitif opens the appetite, writing about it has certainly made me thirsty! So here is the recipe for the St~Germain Cocktail we enjoyed at the seminar! Cheers! Or how we say it in French: santé!
Le St~Germain Cocktail
1/2 part St~Germain
2 parts dry sparkling Wine or champagne
2 parts sparkling water
Serve on ice in a tall glass and garnish with a lemon twist