The aperitif is to be served before the evening meal to stimulate the appetite. The words aperitif, or aperitivo (in Italian) originated from the Latin term to open. Aperitifs are served cold and usually dry, although sometimes bitter, but not sweet.
According to European tradition, aperitifs such as vermouth, Campari, Lillet, etc. are served either on their own or further diluted with soda and ice. Americans however, often enjoy aperitifs mixed with stronger spirits like vodka, whiskey, and gin. Classic recipes of these combinations include the Martini, Manhattan, and Negroni. It is all a matter of preference, of how one opens the palate.
There is no definitive evidence indicating the exact origin of the aperitif, but historical records do indicate that bitter drinks were used for medicinal purposes dating back to the ancient Egyptians. However, aperitifs as we know them were more likely born out of medicinal spirits created in the 16th century. These potions were made by infusing liquor with a blend of spices, roots, and other additives. Although, they were completely ineffective at treating cold or flu symptoms, the aperitif lived on as a tasty precursor to the evening meal.
In 1796, Italy’s Antonio Carpano was credited with developing the first recipe for vermouth. In France, the aperitif became popular when Joseph Dubbonet created a wine-based drink to mask the bitterness of quinine, which was used to fight malaria. And, in 1919 one of the most popular aperitifs was born in Florence when Count Camillo Negroni asked for a stronger version of the Americano (Campari, vermouth, and soda). The bartender added gin to the mix and left out the soda. The Negroni was born.
Today, aperitifs hail from around the world and for the most part come in 4 styles: Bitters and Herbal Liqueurs, Fortified Wine, Aromatized Wine, and Sparkling Wine. Most aperitifs are meant to be straight with simply a garnish. Vermouth and bitter liqueurs are best served over ice, while fortified and aromatized wines are best when chilled. Pastis and ouzo are often paired with water to dilute their intense anise flavors. Usually served in stemmed glasses, aperitifs are a tradition that is here to stay.