At five o’clock each night, slews of Americans head to the bar for “Happy Hour”, a pre-dinner ritual that involves downing as many discounted drinks as you can for 60 minutes. Not surprisingly, this represents a gluttonous misrepresentation of a European tradition. The idea of the apéritif, a drink to stimulate the appetite before dinner, is a long stayed custom in most other parts of the world and focuses on the concept of starting slow.
Though the notion of a pre-dinner drink is said to stem back to ancient Egypt, the modern day apéritif (derived from the Latin word ‘apertitiuvum’ meaning 'opener') was originally introduced medicinally. They were used as delivery systems for quinine to help fight malaria. The first apéritifs were flavored spirits with a mix of herbs and spices and often diluted in wine to make the medicine more palatable. People found the flavors very favorable and the drinks soon became non-medicinal and extremely popular. By the 18th century, along with the introduction of vermouth in Italy, drink makers were examining the characteristics and mixability of various herbs and spices. This led to an apéritif explosion in Italy and France, with both countries rivaling one another in both production and consumption.
Apéritifs made their way across the Atlantic in the early 1900s and became quite popular in the United States. But by the 1970s we moved away from a light drink with smaller bites before dinner and transitioned into the “Happy Hour” concept, often downing heavy food with fuller cocktails or beer. With the current craft cocktail movement comes a true appreciation for the spirits that were once on the forefront of apéritifs. So next time five o’clock rolls around, head to your local cocktail bar and sip on something that will stimulate your appetite, along with a little bit of your classiness.
Some of The Savory’s Favorite Apéritifs
Campari on the Rocks
Sweet Vermouth on the Rocks with a Twist