Over the past five years, the bubbly, sun-dappled aura of aperitivo has become the very picture of aspirational drinking the world over. We can thank the spritz, at least in part. To everyone outside of Italy, it was but a vacation drink, sipped in piazzas and on terrazzas and then promptly left behind for happy hour upon return. But when the spritz became Spritz™, it didn’t just become an entire category of drinks (bitter bubbly, low-ABV), it also brought its attendant drinking culture with it, imbuing our post-5 p.m. ambitions with a certain sprezzatura.
But as the spritz enjoyed its stateside star turn, it became, as PUNCH editors Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau put it, “as hard to define as it is easy to drink.” The same could be said of the other icons of aperitivo—the Negroni, the Americano, the Mi-To, the Garibaldi—and of the very ritual of aperitivo itself. The simple Italian gift for unwinding has become co-optable, imprintable, merchandisable. But perhaps this is just fine for aperitivo. It has definable contours, sure, but it has never been much for rules.
In that spirit, we present our essentials as a means for you to find your own.
Bottles to Try
No aperitivo bar would be complete without bubbles (prosecco, soda water, tonic—ideally all three) and a selection of vermouth, so be sure to have those items on hand. From there, it’s all about the bitter liqueurs. The category is broad and constantly expanding, which is what makes this style of drinking so exciting. Here’s a solid trio to start with.
Campari: There is no aperitivo without Campari and no Campari without aperitivo. Need we say more? It forms the base of the Negroni, the Bicicletta, Americano, Mi-To, Garibaldi and more. Throw it in a spritz, dump it on your head—either way, it’s bittersweet joy in a bottle.
Select Aperitivo: While not as well-known outside of its Venetian environs as its Paduan cousin, Aperol, Select is considered to be the spritz’s original bitter companion. Born on the island of Murano in 1920 and still a local favorite, like all liqueurs marked “Aperitivo” it’s less bitter and lower in alcohol than those labeled “Bitter” (like Campari).
Forthave Red: Over the last half-decade, the classic Italian spirits brands have been joined by a growing cohort of American-made bitter liqueurs. Brooklyn’s Forthave is one of the most successful, expertly tipping to the classic Bitter style of aperitivo liqueurs, while introducing a floral, citric profile that is wholly unique.
Books to Read
In 2014, the two PUNCH editors flew to Milan, rented a car and drove through the top half of Italy in search of the iconic aperitivo drink’s past and present, as well as its future back on American soil. The slim volume is a recipe book, sure, but also an ode to the culture of aperitivo.
Marisa Huff’s book takes a more expansive view of the drinks and food that define modern aperitivo in Italy, and how the tradition has continued to evolve on its home soil. Part cookbook, part recipe book, it’s a terrific look at the food and drink of Northern Italy.
One rule that aperitivo is actually keen to uphold is that drinks and food are inseparable. Even if it’s a simple dish of olives or a bowl of supermarket potato chips, your drink must have a sidekick. Why not do it right? Gustiamo is our favorite purveyor of specialty Italian products and ships nationwide.
If you want to serve your spritzes in a Solo cup, we are certainly not going to stop you. But with drinks as simple as the aperitivo standards, elevating them to occasion is as simple as serving them in an appropriately festooned glass. We love Food52’s selection of Italian glassware, particularly this amber-hued set of retro goblets.
Celebrate your aperitivo allegiance and its merchandisable status with this tastefully embroidered poolside cap. It’s a lifestyle, OK?