What is an Aperitif? Understanding the Origins and Purpose of Pre-Dinner Drinks

When, why, and how to drink aperitifs

An aperitif is a type of alcoholic beverage that is typically served before a meal to stimulate the appetite.

The word “aperitif” comes from the Latin word “aperire,” which means “to open.” Aperitifs are meant to open up the palate and prepare it for the flavors and textures of the meal to come.

There are many different types of aperitifs, but they are generally dry rather than sweet. Some common examples include vermouth, sherry, and Campari.

Aperitifs can be served on their own or mixed into cocktails, and they are often paired with small bites or appetizers.

While aperitifs are most commonly associated with European cultures, they have become increasingly popular around the world.

They are a great way to start off a meal and can add an extra layer of sophistication to any dining experience. If you’re looking to elevate your next dinner party or special occasion, consider serving an aperitif to set the tone for the meal to come.

What is an Aperitif?

An aperitif is an alcoholic beverage served before a meal to stimulate the appetite. It is usually dry rather than sweet and can be served with or without food.

The word “aperitif” comes from the Latin “aperire,” which means “to open.” Aperitifs are meant to “open up” the palate and prepare the digestive system for a meal.

Common choices for an aperitif include vermouth, champagne, pastis, gin, ouzo, and dry sherry. Aperitifs can also be made into cocktails, such as the classic Negroni, which is made with gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari.

While the specific origin of aperitifs is unknown, it is believed that they originated in France in the 19th century. The French have a long tradition of enjoying aperitifs before meals, and the practice has since spread throughout the world.


The tradition of enjoying an aperitif before dinner dates back centuries, and it has its roots in Italy.

The word “aperitif” comes from the Latin word “aperire,” which means “to open.” The idea behind an aperitif is to stimulate the appetite and prepare the taste buds for the meal to come.

In Italy, the aperitivo has been a part of the culture for centuries. It was originally a way for people to enjoy a drink and a small snack after work before heading home for dinner.

Over time, the aperitivo evolved into a social event, with friends and family gathering at a local bar or cafe to enjoy a drink and some small bites.

The popularity of the aperitif spread beyond Italy, and it became a popular pre-dinner ritual throughout Europe. In France, the tradition of the aperitif, or “apéro” as it’s known, is deeply ingrained in the culture. The French enjoy a variety of aperitifs, from dry white wine to vermouth to pastis.

Today, the aperitif has become a global phenomenon, with people all over the world enjoying a pre-dinner drink and snack. The types of aperitifs available have also expanded, with new and innovative drinks being created all the time.

Types of Aperitifs

Aperitif cocktails are ever changing, but there a few bases that are used to create them. Even including non-alcoholic, there is an aperitif for everyone’s taste.

Wine-Based Aperitifs

Wine-based aperitifs are made by adding herbs, fruits, and other botanicals to a base wine.

These aperitifs are typically lighter in alcohol content and have a lower sugar content than other types of aperitifs. Some popular wine-based aperitifs include:

  • Vermouth: A fortified wine that is flavored with herbs and spices.
  • Lillet: A French aperitif made from a blend of Bordeaux wines and citrus liqueurs.
  • Aperol: An Italian aperitif that is made with bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona.

Spirit-Based Aperitifs

Spirit-based aperitifs are made by adding herbs, fruits, and other botanicals to a base spirit.

bottle of campari next to an orange drink on a bar

These aperitifs are typically higher in alcohol content and have a sweeter taste than wine-based aperitifs. Some popular spirit-based aperitifs include:

  • Campari: An Italian aperitif that is made with herbs, spices, and fruit.
  • Aperitif de Normandie: A French aperitif that is made with Calvados, a type of apple brandy.
  • Pastis: A French aperitif that is similar to absinthe and is made with anise and licorice.

Non-Alcoholic Aperitifs

Non-alcoholic aperitifs are a great option for those who want to enjoy the flavors of an aperitif without the alcohol content.

Some popular non-alcoholic aperitifs include:

  • Sanbitter: An Italian aperitif that is made with bitter orange, gentian, and rhubarb.
  • Seedlip: A non-alcoholic spirit that is made with botanicals and spices.
  • Non-Alcoholic Vermouth: A non-alcoholic version of the classic vermouth that is made with herbs and spices.

Serving and Pairing

Aperitifs serve diverse flavor palates. How and what aperitifs are served with are essential in enhancing them.

Serving Temperature

The serving temperature of an aperitif is important to ensure that it is enjoyed to its fullest potential.

Generally, aperitifs are served chilled, but the specific temperature can vary depending on the type of aperitif. Vermouth, for example, is best served at around 35-40°F, while champagne should be served at 45-50°F.

It’s important to note that serving an aperitif too cold can dull its flavors, so be sure to chill it to the appropriate temperature.


The glassware used to serve an aperitif can also impact its taste and aroma.

Aperitifs are typically served in smaller glasses, such as a flute or a small wine glass, to allow the drinker to fully appreciate its aroma. The shape of the glass can also enhance the taste of the aperitif.

For example, a tapered flute can help to concentrate the bubbles in a sparkling wine, while a wider glass can help to release the aromas of a vermouth.

Food Pairings

When it comes to pairing food with an aperitif, it’s important to choose flavors that complement each other. Aperitifs are often served with light, savory snacks, such as olives, nuts, or cheese.

Dry white wines and sparkling wines are popular choices for pairing with aperitifs, as their crisp acidity can help to refresh the palate. Vermouth can also be paired with salty snacks or cured meats, while gin can be paired with citrus flavors or herbs.

It’s important to note that aperitifs are meant to stimulate the appetite, so they should be paired with light, refreshing flavors that won’t overpower the taste of the drink. Avoid pairing aperitifs with heavy, rich foods, as this can dull the flavors of both the food and the drink.


In conclusion, an aperitif is a pre-dinner drink that is typically served to stimulate the appetite and prepare the stomach for the meal to come. It is a social activity that is enjoyed by many cultures, particularly in France and Italy.

There are a variety of different types of aperitifs, including vermouth, gin, and Campari. These drinks are often served over ice and can be enjoyed on their own or as part of a cocktail.

While the primary purpose of an aperitif is to stimulate the appetite, it is important to remember that these drinks contain alcohol and should be consumed in moderation. Additionally, it is important to note that not all pre-dinner drinks are considered aperitifs, and that some cultures have their own unique pre-dinner traditions.

Comment below and let us know your favorite aperitif to sip on!

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Lauren McKenna

Lauren is a soon to be Temple University graduate. Her love of travel has introduced her to food and drinks from all over the world. She provides MyBartender with a global view of all things alcohol.

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