A bustling café en plein air, stirring with lively conversation. A breezy piazza, glowing like a Caravaggio painting at golden hour. Though a cinematic setting for your pre-dinner drink doesn’t hurt, aperitif culture is just as much a fixture of a night in as an evening out—and can be as effortless. Celebrating this tradition from the comfort of home requires little more than some light snacks to share and a modestly stocked home bar. Here are a few rules to live by as you open your door and raise a glass to family and friends.
STOCK UP. It takes very little to whip up a proper aperitif cocktail, the best of which have simple recipes made with staple ingredients. To begin, be sure to have a few select starting-point bottles on hand—classic aperitif liqueurs, like St-Germain, plus any other fruity, floral or fortified staples from Europe that you prefer.
A few good bottles of vermouth—a solid French dry and Italian sweet are versatile and affordable—are absolute musts, and sparkling wine and sparkling water will be key for the spritz-lovers out there. Beyond that, gravitate toward lighter, more versatile spirits, like gin; crisp lagers and dry sparkling wines; and an edited selection of basic citrus and herbs.
Start simple with the timeless St-Germain Spritz, which marries the elderflower liqueur with dry sparkling wine and soda water. Work your way up to the likes of the Shining Path from Brooklyn’s William Elliott, a shaken combination of homemade lemon cordial, Avèze and Salers with a Rinomato float.
KEEP THE BUBBLES HANDY. The archetypal pre-dinner drink is meant to be replenishable without fuss—and altogether forgiving. Early aperitif-making results not quite to your liking? There’s one fix that almost never fails: Pour some bubbly on it.
The easiest way to brighten and lengthen, topping an aperitif with sparkling wine is a winning move that works beyond just the classic spritz template. See native Parisian Nico de Soto’s Qui Oui?: St-Germain, red bitters, kiwi and lemon, crowned with prosecco and pink salt.
BATCH AHEAD. Think about hosting an aperitif party the same way you think about cooking a family-style meal: Batch your drinks ahead, and don’t be afraid to let your guests serve themselves. A good rule of thumb is to prepare two drinks per person for a cocktail hour, and three for a cocktail party; remember that aperitifs are much lower in proof and easier to sip at a leisurely pace. (Consider anything left over your reward for being a well-prepared host.)
Set up a cocktail table or bar cart with a pitcher, a bowl of ice and garnish for easy assembly. New York bartender Naren Young’s Al Fresco Spritz more than fits the bill: A base of bianco vermouth, St-Germain, London dry gin and fresh lime juice easily combines in a pitcher. After finishing with sparkling water and Prosecco, this crowd-pleasing spritz is easily doled out into fruit-garnished glasses.
DON’T FORGET THE SNACKS. The natural companion for the aperitif cocktail is an array of snacks. Keep your spread simple and easy for guests to eat with minimal fanfare (and without utensils). A selection of cured meats, pâte, sliced cheeses, fruit and condiments with sliced baguette or crostini are all you really need. Composed dressed-bread bites, a la bruschetta, or mini sandwiches and open-faced tartines are another, slightly more elevated option.
EMBRACE THE APERITIF LIFE. Don’t forget that the aperitif is more than just a ritual—it’s a state of mind.