5 Things I’ve Learned About…Aperitif Spirits

The February 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Aperitif Spirits.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1.  For me, the single biggest takeaway was a schooling on what constitutes “aperitif.” When I first proposed this category, I hadn’t figured on including vermouths, which are fortified wines, rather than spirits. At one end of the spectrum, you have the strong and often bitter distilled spirits, which include amaros and all those monk-made herbal liqueurs; on the other, the gentle and sweet/dry aperitif wines. The latter category also spans vermouths, as well as French aperitif wines known as quinquinas and their Italian counterparts, chinati. Luckily, booze expert Paul Clarke has broken some ground writing about the latter category, so I can just direct you here for a primer.

2.  When it comes to vermouth, it’s either transcendently good, or woefully disappointing, reminiscent of wine gone bad. Not much middle ground. Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes are going to find permanent places in my personal bar.

3.  Bitter aperitifs – it’s all a matter of taste. Fernet is perhaps the most polarizing spirit of them all. Some people find it refreshing. I hate the murky brown stuff – for me, it inspires a visceral” ick!” reaction, like a little kid to mushy lima beans. I had to recognize that I could not objectively review it nor assign a rating. I will never acquire a taste for Fernet. I am okay with this.

4.  Herbal is big in the aperitif spirits category. Good luck actually picking out the specific herbs, though; most combine a mix of dozens of mysterious herbs and spices, and the recipe is deliberately vague.

5.  For whatever reason, Italy and France seem to have walloped the rest of the world in creating aperitif spirits. Where are the contributions from the rest of the world?

If you have a favorite aperitif spirit or wine, or aperitif cocktail, I’d love to hear more about it, please leave a comment! You can also use that space to bad-mouth (or defend) Fernet, if you so desire.

14 thoughts on “5 Things I’ve Learned About…Aperitif Spirits

  1. Rosemary, sage, and thyme infused Lillet Blanc. Bruise fresh herbs and add Lillet. Infuse for about a week. Serve over ice or chilled, with fresh lemon and orange twists. Absolutely delicious.

  2. thats so cool you mention carpano antica i had that for the first time at Domenica Restaurant in Nola monday night. great post kara.

  3. Yo Kara!

    I thought Fernet was a digestivo. I’m sure my Mamma é Papa had some of this stuff laying around the house while I was growing up, but I don’t recall if I’ve ever had it. I shall reserve judgement until I try it. I will most likely enjoy it. Averna is my favorite digestivo since it’s been in my life for as long as I can remember.

    As far as aperitivo goes, I’ve always liked Cynar. Very interesting stuff, and I’ve always been fond of the label. There’s an artichoke on it for chrissakes! Also a staple in the house when I was growing up.

    Great post!


    • you’re probably right about aperitivo vs. digestivo. though I keep seeing both in cocktails that are served as aperitivos or in neutral not-in-dinner context.

      Cynar! I love Cynar. I also love watching people’s reactions when you tell them what is, don’t you? “an….artichoke….liqueur? really??”

      • LOL! Sometimes shock value is half the fun. Good thing Cynar is just so damn good.

        And speaking of aperitivos and such… have you had Root? My fellow bloggers hate the stuff and liken it to Formula 44D (or a Smith Brothers Licorice cough drop), but I kind of like it. It’s no Averna, but it’s still pretty tasty.

        One last thing… ever see a movie called Made with Vonce Vaughn and Jon Favreau? There’s a scene with them and P. Diddy arguing about digestivos and aperitivos, and the conversation revolves around when it’s acceptable to drink Strega. Funny stuff!

  4. Had dinner with the wife and some friends in Philly. We ate at Adsum. Excellent meal! Dessert time rolled around and I took a peek at the after dinner drinks. They had Fernet, so I ordered a glass of it. I believe there are two versions, one with mint and one without. I think I had the mint version. I really enjoyed it. Not quite as syrupy as Averna, definitely more intense (if that’s even possible). Very minty. Good stuff! May have to pick up a bottle for the house.

    • Thanks for all the details! Mint Fernet? Sounds intriguing…

      A friend in Argentina emailed recently to tell me that Fernet is a popular drink there, often drunk with Coca-Cola. And he emailed a pic from an Argentine liquor store with several types of Fernet on the shelf, none of which I’ve ever seen in the U.S. I wonder if I’d like any of them….

      So shout-out to Fernet lovers: plan a trip to Argentina.

  5. Pingback: Restaurant Review – Adsum, Queen Village Philadelphia « It's just the booze dancing…

  6. Pingback: 5 things I’ve learned about…Liqueurs and Cordials | Tipple Sheet

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