The Basics History & Trends

Behind the Bar: Aperitif Cocktails

Fortified wine-based aperitifs were once the teatime drink of choice in fancy drawing rooms around the globe.

That’s not to mention that Noel Coward celebrated the Dubonnet Cocktail in song, James Bond mixed Lillet with vodka and gin to form a Vesper and, of course, the Martini and the Manhattan—the two most recognizable of American cocktails—are both made with liberal measures of the aperitif vermouth.

All of this wonderful history is being rediscovered by the cocktailian community and enriched with an ever-growing list of available aperitifs. Many are old-world brands that are experiencing a revival, but some creative bar gurus are also making their own concoctions.

For instance, Jackson Cannon, head bartender at Eastern Standard in Boston, brews a rosé vermouth based on Spanish grenache wine. It’s used in his Vin Amer Fizz, which also calls for apricot liqueur, cava, lemon juice and an egg white.

You can also now buy spicy Antica Formula sweet vermouth, famously produced for centuries by the Italian Carpano family. For a treat, try it instead of your standard vermouth in two iconic aperitif tipples: the Negroni and the Manhattan.

Up until recently, generations of Americans raised on sugary “pop” had no tolerance for sipping bitter aperitifs as adults (a practice still common in parts of Europe). But drinkers are gently easing back into the tradition of having a pre-prandial glass of, say, Campari or Aperol, to stimulate the appetite. The spices and botanicals in these spirits make them ideal partners in the culinary-cocktail explosion.

So this holiday season, enjoy an aperitif or two with some of your favorite festive appetizers. Cheers!

Apéritif got your appetite going? These great appetizer recipes should help satiate your hunger.

Vin Amer Fizz

Contributed by Jackson Cannon


  • 2 oz Rosé Vermouth*
  • 1 oz Marie Brizard Apry
  • .5 oz Lemon juice
  • 1 Egg white
  • .5 oz Cava wine
  • Glass: Coupe


Add all the ingredients except the cava to a shaker and shake without ice. Fill with ice and shake again. Strain into a coupe glass and top with the cava.

*Rosé Vermouth

Contributed by Jackson Cannon


  • 24 Strawberries, sliced
  • 500 ml Unaged brandy or grappa
  • 600 g Sugar
  • 3 (750-mL) bottles Rosé wine, divided
  • 2 g Dried wormwood
  • 1 g Dried gentian
  • 1 g Dried oregano
  • 1 g Dried sage
  • 1 g Fresh thyme
  • .5 g Fresh rosemary
  • Half a vanilla bean
  • 5 g Dried bitter orange peel
  • .7 g Dried ginger
  • 250 ml Ruby port
  • Zest of a quarter of an orange (about 1.5 tsp)


Add the strawberries to a jar or bottle with the brandy or grappa and let stand for 2 days. Dissolve the sugar with 1 to 2 tsp water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until caramelized to a peanut-butter color. Remove from the heat and slowly add the brandy mixture, stirring thoroughly. Set aside.

Add 750 mL of the wine to a large saucepan and add the herbs and spices (wormwood through ginger). Bring to a boil over high heat, turn off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the port and set aside.

Add the remaining 1.5 L of wine to a large bowl, pitcher or jug and add the reserved port and brandy mixtures. Stir or shake vigorously until all the ingredients are combined. Add the orange zest and refrigerate until cold. Strain before using.