Friday, January 13, 2012

What is an Aperitif?

In the olden days, an aperitif was almost always taken before meals. This was done to encourage the appetite. Much eating had to go on whenever food was available, which was not every day, and people often just couldn't eat enough. Most people were starving most of the time. There were huge meals, such as those still served in Italy and Mexico today, and long hours were spent eating and resting. People really had to scarf down as much as they could stomach and hope it would last them until the next meal, which was often days away. A great deal of energy went into preparing meals, as well, making large amounts of flour pasta or mashing beans into mounds. Families were large but it wasn't only families at the table most of the time. Neighbors, relatives, friends and just lucky passersby would be welcomed at the repast. If you've ever toured the castles of old you are familiar with the size of their dining tables. Whole animals were tossed onto platters and served with bread and wine, mostly. So aperitifs, which were, at that time, liqueurs made of herbs and alcohol, were served and taken to stimulate the stomach lining and get people eating as much as they had to in order to survive.

In these days, the idea of stimulating an appetite is actually humorous. Most of us outright laugh at the thought of eating as much as we can and end up thinking about how much running and dieting it would take to rid ourselves of the fatty results. Most of us would like a drink that would kill our appetite instead. But aperitifs are actually light and warming, low in calories and good for the stomach before eating. They must always be a light spirit, such as wine, champagne or herb based liqueurs, which does not fill the stomach or quench the appetite. Hearty drinks like Bloody Marys, Frozen Drinks, Imported Beers or drinks made with Cream are not recommended before a meal because they fill you up. There are many aperitifs made and bottled for sale today. One popular brand is Lillet Aperitif from France, which comes in both red and white. It is a wine based drink with orange flavoring. Dubonnet also makes an aperitif, both a sweet red and a dry white version.

The most popular all time aperitifs are Vermouth, which is made with herbs and plants, and comes in both sweet and dry versions and also Bitters, made of aromatic plants, seeds, roots, flowers, herbs, fruits and, sometimes, quinine. Bitters are also often used in herbal medicine. If you mix Bitters with a glass of Club Soda, drinking this will cure an upset stomach and it is great for settling a stomach before a meal. One of the most popular Bitters is Bright Red Campari, which is made in Italy and has a bitter taste that is both aromatic and sweet. Other popular Bitters include Amer Picon, made in France, with orange, quinine and gentian; Punt e Mes Bitters, made in Italy, a sweet and bitter wine and quinine mix; Angostura Bitters, made in Trinidad, so tasty that they are often taken straight; and Peychauds Bitters, made in Louisiana, a bit stronger in flavor than Angostura. The most famous aperitif of all is Pernod, made in France, and is flavored with Anise. Remember to serve Pernod in one part bitters to five parts water and mix until cloudy. Ouzo, made in Greece, is another popular aperitif that is best served in coffee drinks.

Be careful with all aperitifs. Bitters, for instance, average 90 - 95 percent alcohol by volume and should be taken with care. Too much of this you could end up in pretty bad shape. Watch out for your customers, too.

Here are some drinks you can find here on this blog, that make great before dinner drinks: Americana, Negroni, Vermouth Cassis, Knockout, Addington, Puntegroni, Cats Eye, Bitter Bikini, Via Veneto, Depth Charge and Kiss Me Quick.

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