Aperitivo hour: The socialising tradition that dates back centuries

It's a social staple that's been raging throughout Europe for centuries. Here's how to do aperitivo at home.

It's a social staple that's been raging throughout Europe for centuries. Here's how to do aperitivo at home. Photo: Getty

From the Italian word for open, your social life is about to be exposed to a whole new way of wining and dining.

Enter: Aperitivo hour.

You might have seen the slogan splashed out the front of your local bar, complete with a “two-for-one Aperol spritz” – but that’s more of a marketing gimmick than an occasion.

Occasion is the preferred term for aperitivo hour, renowned Sydney bartender Manuel Terron explained.

“It’s not specific to the time of day or to the weather outside – it’s this occasion that you create with friends,” Mr Terron, owner of Bar Tapa, told The New Daily.

With its roots in Italy, and spin-offs in Spain and France, aperitivo hour is the original pre-drinks.

It started with the Romans, who would hold gatherings before banquets to allow for ample socialising. There would be drinks and nibbles and plenty of opportunities to chat.

Meaning ‘to open’, aperitifs are designed to stimulate hunger.

Drinks are often vermouths or bitter liqueurs – served short or long – to start those tastebuds salivating.

Alongside them are tiny morsels of food – a piece of bread topped with cheese, cured meat or a sardine. Nothing too heavy, just enough to get one’s stomach flexing.

As a Spaniard, Mr Terron said his country’s tradition for ‘el aperitivo’ usually took place before lunch.

“It kind of falls in the generally pre-lunch time. People flock out to the bars, they’ll have a couple of drinks and then they’ll hook up with the family and they’ll go and have lunch,” he said.

In Italy and France, it typically takes place before dinner.

Can’t find it? Do it yourself

Mr Terron remarked it’s surprising aperitivo hour – and the aperitifs that come along with it – hasn’t fundamentally caught on in Australia.

But for those keen to see it happen, it’s an easy thing to recreate.

Mr Terron suggests “just making these little bite-size morsels, and doing something simple like a Ruby Rose jug: Pampelle liqueur, rose wine and a splash of soda”.

A far cry from complicated cocktails, aperitifs give leniency when it comes to creativity.

All you need to create an aperitif station is your chosen ‘hero’ – a vermouth or bitter liqueur, usually – a bottle of tonic, a bottle of soda and perhaps a bottle or bubbles or rose wine.

“Just let people mix and match as they want,” Mr Terron said.

For snacks, he suggests following the Mediterranean lead: Canned seafood, pate, cheese and toasted bread.

“What’s lovely about [aperitivos] is that it allows for conversation and chat. It allows for mixing foods, dreams and ideas,” Mr Terron said.

National Aperitivo Day is Wednesday, May 19 – providing the perfect platform to try the “occasion” for yourself.

Most people think ‘Aperol spritz’ when they think of aperitifs, but there’s much more on offer. Photo: Getty

Top aperitif liqueurs

Aperol: A classic that has many more uses than a watered-down ‘Appy spritz’. It’s the less bitter cousin of Campari, making it an ideal entry point for beginners. Think rhubarb, zest and herbs.

Campari: The grown-up version of Aperol, it’s what gives the negroni its distinctive edge. If you haven’t tried it, it’s strong with flavours of orange, cherry, cinnamon and herbs.

Pampelle: This ruby grapefruit liqueur is bittersweet without being too sweet, and made from grapefruits that have been distilled with yuzu and bitters, among other things. Its botanicals include quinine, which makes it great to top up with tonic for a light spritz.

Pastis: For the daring, try this black liquorice-flavoured liqueur. It can be used as a substitute for absinthe – it tastes similar but is way less alcoholic. Or just pour it over ice and top it with soda.

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