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Sarah Ward

Apéritif Definition: Celebrate National Apéritif Day

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National Apéritif Day, observed on the third Thursday of May each year, falls on May 19th, 2022. Apéritifs are a drink that are widely enjoyed–even if they’re not always called apéritifs–these days. The apéritif definition is a drink enjoyed before a meal, to stimulate the appetite. It can even be well-suited to happy hour.

Cocktail drinks are popular apéritifs. Apéritifs go hand in hand with digestifs, which–as the name suggests–are served after a meal to aid in digestion. 

These days, apéritifs are often in the form of types of white wine with appetizers. They can also be a gin and tonic enjoyed with hors d'oeuvres. To celebrate National Apéritif Day this year, we’ll take a look at the apéritif definition. We'll also get acquainted with some of the best apéritif drinks.

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Apéritif Definition

The apéritif definition from Webster’s is “an alcoholic drink taken before a meal as an appetizer.” That’s a definition with a lot of wiggle room, and it’s changed over the years. In older years, when meals were more firmly set in courses, an apéritif was a specific part of the meal. 

There’s a film from 2017 called Murder on the Orient Express. It’s based on the book by Agatha Christie, and the story takes place in the 1930s. In the film, a character mentions having an apéritif before a meal.

The term, along with the practice, perfectly suits the manner of the age. Apéritif is often featured in wine movies that cover a range of wines through the ages.

In the 2020s, the term isn’t used as often. However, hardly a dinner party goes by without a drink enjoyed around a charcuterie board before the main meal.

Apéritif Glasses

Traditionally, the most noticeable feature of any apéritif glass is that it suits the drink served in it. The list below covers a fair amount of the bar glasses you’ll often either use or see in use for apéritif drinks:

  • Pony glass
  • Highball glass
  • White wine glass
  • Shot glass (although not all apéritifs are the best alcohol for shots)
  • Martini glass
  • Collins glass
  • Rocks glass
  • Copita glass
  • Champagne flute

Of course, if you’re having an apéritif at home, you can use whatever glass you have on hand. If, however, you’re dining out, keep an eye on the glassware. Depending on the location, you’re likely to be served an apéritif in the traditionally correct glassware.

Apéritif Cocktails

While an apéritif isn’t always a cocktail, cocktails have a cemented place in the world of apéritifs. From the Negroni to the Aperol Spritz, some well-known mixed drink options are best known as apéritifs. 

If you’re celebrating National Apéritif Day from home, you can mix up any number of apéritif cocktails. You could choose some of the classics, or you could experiment with general apéritif liquors. Vermouth, gin, and sherry are among some of the most popular. 

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10 Best Apéritifs

With the apéritif definition being as open-ended as it is, there isn’t a huge limit to what can act as an apéritif. There are, however, some drinks that are best served to the apéritif role. 

From cocktails to wine to shots, there are plenty of apéritif options. These top 10 will give you something to work with for tonight, or your next dinner party. 

10. Champagne

Champagne comes in at number 10. While there’s never a bad time for champagne or sparkling wines, you have to be careful with it as an apéritif. The bubbles of champagne are filling. If you’re looking for champagne apéritifs, try pairing it with something that takes up more of the drink than the champagne. That’ll keep you from getting full before the main course.

9. Lillet

Lillet, fondly called the French apéritif since 1872, is a classic that has never gone out of style. The younger generations might be less familiar with this wine-liqueur combination, but it remains a favorite apéritif across the world. Lillet can be enjoyed solo, or in cocktails. It’s one apéritif that more people should become familiar with.

8. Gin and Tonic

There’s never a bad time for a gin and tonic, but pre-dinner is the best time. The variety of gin means this drink can work with many appetizers. It’s also filling to last a while while the main course cooks. Also, it’s just so yummy; starting off a meal with a treat like a G&T is always fun! 

7. Sauvignon Blanc

Of all the white wine names, Sauvignon Blanc is the best for an apéritif. It’s light and crisp, and it primes your palate for the meal to come. It also lends itself to many dishes. If you’re sipping on your glass when the main course is ready, you won’t have to switch up your drink.

6. Aperol Spritz

Aperol is one of the most recognized apéritif liquors, and the Aperol Spritz is a great apéritif drink. Combining Aperol, prosecco wine, club soda, and a slice of orange, this bright drink is well-suited to meals served outside on a sunny afternoon. It’s one of the best summer cocktails.

5. Campari

Campari, an Italian alcoholic liqueur, is both an apéritif itself, and a bitter that serves as apéritif cocktail ingredients. Campari can be mixed with whiskey, rum, prosecco (in great prosecco cocktails), and many other alcohols. It’s safe to say there is a Campari cocktail for every person and every type of meal. 

4. Fabiola

A Fabiola is a classic apéritif cocktail that can be made in many different ways. When you search for a Fabiolo recipe, you’ll find options, but most have brandy as a base. We favor an option that combines brandy, sweet vermouth, orange liqueur, ice, and an orange peel as the garnish. 

3. Negroni

The Negroni is one of the many Campari cocktails well-loved in the world of apéritifs. The Negroni combines Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. It’s one part of each, with an orange twist for a garnish. As classic apéritifs go, the Negroni is high up on the list. 

2. Gimlet

The gimlet is a classic with many different variations. The typical gimlet is four parts gin and one part sweetened lime juice. Rose’s brand of lime juice is the usual choice. If the plain gimlet isn’t for you, you can try a French gimlet (different from a French 75), which brings St. Germain into the mix. 

1. Martini

As apéritifs go, it doesn’t get much better than a martini. Made famous by James Bond, a martini is a mix of gin and vermouth. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to mix it up.

You can have a vodka martini. You can also make a martini by swirling vermouth in the glass, pouring it out, and pouring the gin in. That'll give you a light vermouth flavor. A martini even comes with its own appetizer, with olives, onions, pickles, and many other options serving as a garnish.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Apéritif Definition

Whether you’re celebrating National Apéritif Day, or you’re looking to bring apéritifs into your regular life, there’s always more to learn. Our answers to these frequently asked questions will expand on a few things we touched on in this article. They’ll also give you more to work with as you plan your apéritifs. 

What Is Considered an Apéritif?

Technically, any drink that works with appetizers is considered an apéritif. Traditionally, apéritifs are somewhat dry and less hearty than any main course or dessert drink. Apéritifs serve the purpose of kick-starting your appetite without filling you up, so anything light and somewhat zesty fits the bill.

What Is After Dinner Drink Called?

An after dinner drink is traditionally called a digestif. Many digestifs also get mixed up with dessert drinks.

If you’re at a dinner party, digestif spirits typically get served around the same time that the coffee and cake get brought out. A digestif serves two purposes: to aid in digestion and warm you up for a good night’s sleep.

Is An Old Fashioned an Apéritif or Digestif?

An old fashioned falls into the digestif definition. An old fashioned is a heartier drink. It is often enjoyed with the main course but is suited equally well to a post-meal drink.

The variations of old fashioneds available these days have made it a more versatile drink. However, the root of it remains in the digestif category.

What Are Some Common Types of Apéritifs?

Common types of apéritifs include fortified wines like vermouth, dry sparkling wines like Champagne or Prosecco, herbal liqueurs like Campari or Aperol, and light spirits like gin or vodka served in cocktails such as Martinis or Negronis.

What Is the Origin of the Apéritif Tradition?

The tradition of consuming apéritifs before meals dates back centuries in European culture, particularly in France and Italy. It was believed that the bitter or herbal flavors of apéritifs could aid in digestion and stimulate the appetite.

What Is the Difference Between an Apéritif and a Digestif?

While an apéritif is consumed before a meal to stimulate the appetite, a digestif is consumed after a meal to aid in digestion and provide a satisfying conclusion to the dining experience. Digestifs are often sweeter and richer in flavor compared to apéritifs.

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Apéritif Definition: Celebrating Every Day

There’s never a bad time to celebrate the traditional apéritif definition, or whatever an apéritif means to you. Sure, National Apéritif Day is a good reason to celebrate, but an apéritif is a casual drink. Whether you’re gathering with friends on a Friday night or having bi-monthly extravagant restaurant dates, there’s no wrong way to enjoy apéritifs. Heck, you can even enjoy them on National Cocktail Day.

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