Transport yourself to Milano with an aperitivo cocktail. These aperitivi are enjoyed across Italy as a pre-meal drink to whet your appetite. They’re typically either an amaro cocktail or a spritz. Not to be confused with happy hour, aperitivo hour is meant to be a light prelude to later dinner. The often bitterness of the drink is thought to open the appetite and has been a staple in Italy for millennia. However, you don’t have to travel to Italy to enjoy the beverage. There are many aperitivi recipes to enjoy now, ranging in flavor from light and refreshing to bracingly bitter. Find one you love and raise your glass, “cin-cin!”
The History of Aperitivo Cocktails
The first aperitivi were enjoyed by the Romans. Before their banquets, wealthy Romans would have an appetizer and honey-sweet wine. It’s likely that this tradition continued, but it wasn’t until Carpano created commercial vermouth in the 1800s that apertivo became a staple. Italians would congregate in cafes to enjoy a glass of vermouth and cured meats and cheese after a workday. In the 1860s, cocktails like the Negroni and Americano became the classic aperitivo cocktails. By the 20th century, aperitivi had spread throughout Italy. Today aperitivo cocktails are enjoyed worldwide, especially by those who love Italian culture.
The smoother Italian cousin of the Negroni, the Americano is an approachable classic aperitivo. This cocktail leans heavily on the bitter fruitiness of Campari without the stiffness of gin that’s called for in its cousin. It is easy sipping and a refreshing choice following a sun-soaked afternoon.
The low-proof Suzie Americano is a fairer riff on the Americano. Made from Suze, an herbal gentian liqueur, blanc vermouth, and club soda, it’s perfect for aperitivo hour. For a smokier take, add mezcal for a Fumata Bianca.
You can’t go wrong with the three-ingredient Mezcal Negroni. Substituting mezcal for the gin in the classic Negroni, changes the flavor profile entirely. It’s smoky, bittersweet, and intriguingly crimson. For another simple riff, change out the mezcal with Jamaican rum for a Kingston Negroni.
The spicy sweetness of buck and mule cocktails makes them a perennial favorite. The Italian Buck is a sophisticated take on the cocktail, made with both Cynar and Amaro Montenegro, lime juice and the requisite ginger beer. Another aperitivo buck cocktail is the Vertigo, made with Averna, lemon, and ginger ale.
The White Negroni is another aperitivo option when the classic is too bitter for your tastes. Keeping the botanical gin, it uses Lillet Blanc instead of sweet vermouth and Suze instead of bitter Campari. It’s still boozy and dry but lighter on the palate. Add tonic and orange bitters for a White Negroni Highball. Substitute the gin for sparkling wine for a White Negroni Sbagliato.
A spin on the Americano, Bitter Intentions is unusually bitter, sweet, and sour all at the same time. Made with Campari, sweet vermouth, simple syrup, soda water, and lemon juice, it’s a delightful amaro spritz.
Talk about a happy little mistake. The Negroni Sbagliato, allegedly came to be after a Milanese bartender reached for a bottle of gin and instead picked up a bottle of prosecco. Sbagliato translates to “incorrect” or “mistaken” in Italian, but we think they absolutely got this one right. It is a lighter and refreshing alternative aperitivo to the richly bitter classic Negroni.
The Spanish Rosita’s meaning is “little rose” attributed to the drink’s ruby red hue. This spirit forward cocktail sees a slight variation from its simpler Mexican Boulevardier cousin. Both offer a complex and intriguing alternative to the typical citrus and tropical flavors of most tequila recipes.
The Riviera spritz is the perfect marriage between iconic French and Italian spirits. While it evokes the sunny weather of the Riviera, this drink can be enjoyed year round. It’s an exciting mixture of Aperol, Campari, and St-Germain, topped with soda water. The Riviera Spritz’s flavor is light and refreshing, similar to other sparkling aperitivi like the classic Aperol Spritz, the Bicicletta, and the Negroni Sbagliato. Boost the ABV count by substituting a dry sparkling wine for the soda water.
While Bicicletta means “bicycle” in Italian, it is certainly not recommended to go riding one after a few of these. This aperitivo follows the typical spritz formula combining two of Italy’s favorite evening refreshments, Campari and white wine, Finished with soda water, the Bicicletta is a low-proof and easy-to-drink cocktail. With its dry and bitter flavors, it joins Italy’s more well-known aperitivi like the Americano, Aperol Spritz, and Negroni.
Named after his magazine, Boulevardier, American-born writer Erskine Gwynne created this aperitivo cocktail at Harry’s Bar in Paris in the 1920s. The drink’s flavor is best described as a bittersweet Manhattan or a whiskey Negroni. The addition of bourbon rounds out the bittersweetness of the Campari and sweet vermouth, making for a rich and intriguing aperitivo.
Created in Venice in 1920, the Aperol Spritz is a classic aperitivo or pre-meal drink to open the appetite. An Italian sparkling wine-based cocktail with a bitter liqueur, it’s low-proof and easy to drink during an afternoon out with friends. The Campari Spritz is a common variation and simply uses Campari instead or Aperol for a stronger taste.