Fortified wine-based aperitifs were once the teatime drink of choice in fancy drawing rooms around the globe.
That’s not to mention that Noel Coward celebrated the Dubonnet Cocktail in song, James Bond mixed Lillet with vodka and gin to form a Vesper and, of course, the Martini and the Manhattan—the two most recognizable of American cocktails—are both made with liberal measures of the aperitif vermouth.
All of this wonderful history is being rediscovered by the cocktailian community and enriched with an ever-growing list of available aperitifs. Many are old-world brands that are experiencing a revival, but some creative bar gurus are also making their own concoctions.
For instance, Jackson Cannon, head bartender at Eastern Standard in Boston, brews a rosé vermouth based on Spanish grenache wine. It’s used in his Vin Amer Fizz, which also calls for apricot liqueur, cava, lemon juice and an egg white.
You can also now buy spicy Antica Formula sweet vermouth, famously produced for centuries by the Italian Carpano family. For a treat, try it instead of your standard vermouth in two iconic aperitif tipples: the Negroni and the Manhattan.
Up until recently, generations of Americans raised on sugary “pop” had no tolerance for sipping bitter aperitifs as adults (a practice still common in parts of Europe). But drinkers are gently easing back into the tradition of having a pre-prandial glass of, say, Campari or Aperol, to stimulate the appetite. The spices and botanicals in these spirits make them ideal partners in the culinary-cocktail explosion.