It’s time for Endless Summer. Get the most out of the season while it’s still here.
Consider the aperitif a liquid wakeup call for your stomach and spirits.
The European tradition of prefacing a meal with a well-chilled, appetite-teasing beverage continues to catch on in the States. And for good reason.
Overseas, aperitifs like Lillet and Campari are classic starting points, but American offerings have recently been eager to catch up. Small-batch makers from all around the country are bottling new ways to stimulate the palate with hand-harvested botanicals and seasonal fruit. Some are easy-drinking on their own, simply chilled; others require only a splash of soda water and ice. All of them are proudly local—and begging to give your summer aperitif a fresh perspective.
Your first impression of Uncouth Vermouth? The bottle, emblazoned with a silhouette of a woman sticking a finger up her nose. Bianca Miraglia is the one-woman band behind these hyperlocal vermouths, which feature mugwort and dozens of other wild herbs she forages herself. A former sommelier, Miraglia steers clear of added sugar, preferring to start with a sweet wine base and then fortify them with good brandy. Her seasonal bottles of Serrano Chile Lavender, Wildflower and Hops vermouth are all exceptional, but her year-round Apple Mint (an aromatic herb) made with Long Island Chardonnay is endlessly drinkable on its own. It’s bracingly dry and crisp when chilled.
Sporting summery vibes right down to the beachy bottle illustration, Citron Sauvage is currently one of Bittermens’ most popular liqueurs. The reason? Think triple sec that’s gone grapefruit. A pleasantly bitter grapefruit aperitif “in the Milanese style,” the pink liqueur makes a tart substitute for triple sec in a Margarita. Swap it for Campari and you’ll turn the Negroni on its head, or splash it into summer spritzes and Hemingway Daiquiris by the pool.
Appleheads, there’s an aperitif for you too. Eden Ice Cider Company makes a dry, bitter aperitif cider that will happily replace your bottle of Campari. Made with Vermont-grown apples and no added sugar, the base ice cider is infused with whole red currants and blended with dandelion, gentian and angelica bitters from Urban Moonshine in Burlington, Vermont. It’s earthy, aromatic and eager to plunge into your Americanos and Manhattans—or even a simple glass of sparkling water and ice.
Ready to start your aperitif hour in quaint French style? Look to upstate New York, where Tuthilltown Spirits creates a cassis using organic local black currants grown at Fishkill Farms. The hand-harvested fruit is macerated with raw cane sugar in neutral spirit and aged inside Tuthilltown Whiskey barrels. Lightly toasted raspberry and honey notes lead into a velvety finish of dark berry, and because the liqueur uses no preservatives, its character will evolve over the life of the bottle. Roll out the bubbly to explore the liqueur’s applications in a summery Kir Royale.
American-made ouzo? Don’t despair, ye of hearty Greek heritage. Old Sugar Distillery’s founder is of Greek descent, and his product is a worthy reincarnation of the classic spirit. Made from a mash of locally-grown beet sugar, Old Sugar’s spirit is first infused with star anise and aniseed, redistilled, then infused a second time with more star anise. The ouzo emerges at a muscular 90 proof, yet remains smooth and subtly spicy. Serve it neat with a splash of ice water for dilution or try it as the rinse in a Sazerac bearing a bit of Greek pride.