Is there any more civilised a concept than the aperitif?
When five o’clock rolls around and dinner is yet a little way away, the idea of sipping a crisp, chilled, bracing, bitter, and otherwise stimulating drink is more appealing than almost anything else. Here’s a guide to the best aperitif drinks to quench your thirst.
We love the idea of a lazy hour or two spent savouring aperitifs so much that we created one of our very own. Sipsmith London Cup – which uses our London Dry Gin as a base before blending with a host of summery ingredients from Earl Grey tea to lemon verbena grown in Jared’s garden – is complex but clean, a refreshing tipple that’s at its best when crowned with a single wheel of lemon. There’s nothing quite like it for whetting the appetite or whiling away a late afternoon.
the only requirements are that they’re refreshing, easy to drink, and often (although our London Cup is not) relatively bracing or bitter…
To best understand the tradition that gave us Sipsmith London Cup, though, one should explore the long history of aperitifs. And it is long: quite simply, no one knows for how many centuries people have enjoyed pre-prandial concoctions in the early evening. It’s thought that the tradition dates back to ancient Egypt, though modern drinkers have ritually consumed aperitifs since at least the late 18th century.
The term “aperitif” can be confusing, as it’s broad enough to encompass a huge range of drinks: Champagne and Pastis are popular apéros in France, bitter amari like Cynar and Campari rule in Italy, while artisanal brands in the UK like Kamm & Sons are, alongside our Summer Cup, some of the best aperitif drinks locally. Since aperitifs were created to stimulate the appetite, the only requirements are that they’re refreshing, easy to drink, and often (although our London Cup is not) relatively bracing or bitter: all the better to make you ravenous for the big meal to come.
The modern history of the aperitif is also entwined with that of vermouth…
The modern history of the aperitif is also entwined with that of vermouth. While vermouth has long been denigrated in certain Martini swilling circles, that’s a mistake: at turns delicate and citrusy, rich and honeyed, it pairs wonderfully with gin. From South America to the Mediterranean, it also ranks among the most popularly consumed aperitifs. It’s time we take a page from those in the know, then, and enjoy some vermouth before dinner – whether chilled, on the rocks, or topped with soda water.
Vermouth refers to any wine that is fortified (which means that other alcohol is added to it) and aromatised (similarly to gin, botanicals are added to make for a rich bouquet of flavours). There’s a huge spectrum of vermouths out there – from the crisp, dry French styles like Lillet Blanc to the hearty and sweet Italian versions like Martini & Rossi. Enjoy deep, dark, herb-laced flavours? Try the complex Punt E Mes. After something refreshing but still bitter? Cocchi Americano, which is aromatised with quinine (the same anti-malarial ingredient found in tonic water, which helped lead to the creation of the Gin and Tonic), among other flavouring agents, is another popular choice.
Before your next big meal, then, set aside some time for lingering with an aperitif — our guide to the best aperitif drinks should sort you right out. No matter what you choose – whether it’s our Sipsmith London Cup or a frosty glass of vermouth – the tradition is certainly one of life’s great pleasures.