Aperitivo Lesson: 5 Bittersweet Bottles and How to Use Them

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Bar shelves abound right now with crimson and orange liqueurs, but what if you don’t know your Campari from your Cappelletti? Here are five top classic and contemporary brands, with flavor profiles and cocktail ideas.

Peychaud’s Aperitivo

Known for the bitters that make a Sazerac, Peychaud’s (now owned by the Sazerac Company) recently released their take on an aperitivo liqueur. “Peychaud’s Aperitivo is the perfect blend of bold citrus, mild bitters and unique spice,” explains Jana Ritter, the product’s associate brand manager. “Just like Antoine Peychaud, we believe cocktails should be simple--therefore we introduced the Aperitivo, a low-proof, easy to mix, refreshing new product.” It boasts aromas of vibrant citrus along with hints of clove and cinnamon, a palate with citrus fruit and subtle herbs and spices, and a sweet, lingering finish. Ritter uses it in a Boulevardier twist, Royal Street Fizz with Champagne and club soda, or in Peychaud’s Punch.

Peychaud’s Punch

Recipe courtesy of Sazerac

  • 1 ½ oz. Peychaud’s Aperitivo
  • 1 oz. white rum
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • ½ oz. simple syrup
  • Club soda
  • Mint sprig

Add the first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until chilled. Finely strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice, top with club soda and garnish with mint.

Cappelletti Aperitivo

Referred to as “il Specialino” in Italian, Cappelletti is produced in the country’s northern Alto Adige region from a hundred-year-old secret formula that blends Trebbiano-based white wine, herbs, and spices steeped in alcohol and mixed daily by hand. “It has the brightness of Aperol and the bitterness of Campari, but it is more rounded and with a longer finish,” explains Luca Giovannini, lead bartender at Fiola Mare in Washington, D.C. The liqueur’s hue sits between orange and red (it gets its color the traditional way, from carmine obtained from cochineal beetles), and it has a light alcohol content, bittersweet flavor, and lively, persistent finish that makes it perfect as an aperitif. Since it’s less expensive than the bigger brands, it’s also great for high volume bars. Try it as a substitution for Campari or Aperol, or in modern drinks like the Sang et Fumée, a mezcal riff on the Blood and Sand.

Sang et Fumée

Recipe courtesy of AJ Johnson, Bar Manager, Macon Bistro & Larder

  • 1.5 oz. Fidencio Mezcal
  • 1 oz. Cappelletti Aperitivo
  • 1 oz. Bittermens Amere Nouvelle Alsatian Style Orange Liqueur
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • ½ oz. agave nectar
  • 4 dashes Tiki bitters
  • Smoked, ground espelette pepper, for rimming

Prepare a coupe glass by rubbing a lime wedge on half of the outside of the rim, and then coating the smoked ground espelette pepper. Set aside. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a cocktail glass, add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into the prepared glass.

Luxardo Aperitivo

This liqueur launched in 2006 celebrates aperitivo culture: the tradition of gathering for a pre-dinner bite and a light, refreshing cocktail. It’s a well-balanced infusion of herbs, roots and citrus, with a mild alcohol content and bittersweet orange flavor that easily partners with fruit juices, wine or Prosecco. “[It] is a sophisticated but highly practical way to highlight classic Mediterranean flavors and to enliven those festive bubbles which we all enjoy,” says David King, president of Anchor Distilling Company. It’s a no-brainer in a Spritz, but also works in modern cocktails like the Citrus Quo.

Citrus Quo

Recipe courtesy of Francesco Lafranconi

  • 1 ½ oz. No. 3 London Dry Gin
  • ⅕ oz. Luxardo Limoncello
  • ½ oz. Luxardo Aperitivo
  • 3 oz. Fever Tree Tonic Water
  • Grapefruit twist, for garnish

Campari

Invented in Novara, Italy in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, this classic liqueur infuses a blend of herbs, aromatic plants, and fruit in alcohol in water. The exact recipe is a secret, with some claiming that it contains upwards of 80 ingredients, and its flavor straddles both bitter and sweet. Campari was originally colored with carmine dye from crushed cochineal beetles, but in 2006 the company switched to a vegan formula. Aaron McGovern, partner of Alphonse Italian Market and Osteria, likes stirring it in an Old Fashioned variant, where it has a much higher flavor profile than vermouth. “Meld bitter red liqueurs in sweeter beverages as well, which creates a harmonious balance of flavors.” And of course, he says, it’s essential in a Negroni; this bottled version can be prepped ahead of time and chilled until uncapped.

Bottled Aviation Negroni

Recipe courtesy of Aviation Gin

  • 2 ¾ oz. Aviation Gin
  • 2 ¼ oz. Cinzano Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 ¼ oz. Campari
  • ¾ oz. water

In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients. Stir, bottle and cap. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Aperol

Aperol is an orange-tinged liqueur, and the Aperol Spritz is a way of life for some. The liqueur was created in 1919 by the Barbieri Company, based in Padua, Italy, and it’s now produced by Campari. The heavily guarded recipe has never been changed, and includes bitter and sweet oranges, rhubarb, gentian and cinchona. Aperol is often compared to Campari, but it’s much milder and less bitter, with a lower alcohol content and orange, vanilla and herbal aromas, intense orange flavors, and a herbal, lingering, bitter finish. The classic spritz combines Prosecco, Aperol and soda in a 3:2:1 ratio over ice, garnished with an orange peel; it lends vibrant orange flavor to any drink into which it’s stirred or shaken, like the Scarlet Letter.

Scarlet Letter

Recipe courtesy of 701 Restaurant

  • 1 ½ oz. gin
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 oz. Lucano Amaro
  • 1 oz. Aperol
  • 1 tbsp. Pomegranate jam
  • 1 egg white
  • Mint sprig, for garnish

Add the egg white to a cocktail shaker, and dry shake without ice. Add the rest of the ingredients except the garnish, add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with the mint sprig.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website,www.kellymagyarics.com, or on  Twitter  and  Instagram  @kmagyarics.