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The Aperitif—It's What's Before Dinner

Summer is the season for these delightfully delicate drinks. 

The purpose of an aperitif is to open the palate. Taking its name from the Latin verb aperire ("to open"), the aperitif is a light, dry premeal drink that serves to stimulate the appetite and ready one's stomach for the food yet to come. Not too sweet and not too boozy, these beverages (also called aperitivos in Italy) stoke rather than numb the taste buds. These bitter, herbaceous sips are often served with light snacks as a lovely predinner ritual.

Below is an introduction to the pillars of a solid aperitif menu. These beverages can, and should, be enjoyed simply—with little more than a splash of club soda, an ice cube, or a citrus twist. A couple of chilled ounces of your chosen aperitif is all you need—before dinner, at least.

VERMOUTH What It Is: Aromatized and fortified wine with cardamom, citrus, juniper, saffron, chamomile, or vanilla notes. ABV: 15% to 18% Where It's From: Southern France/ northern Italy How to Drink It as an Aperitif: In a small glass with 1 or 2 ice cubes and a lemon or orange twist Where Else to Put It: Sweet: in a Manhattan; dry: in a gin martini

QUINQUINA What It Is: Aromatized and fortified wine characterized by a bitter edge from quinine-rich chinchona bark. ABV: 15% to 18% Where It's From: France How to Drink It as an Aperitif: In a small glass with 1 or 2 ice cubes, a splash of club soda, and an orange slice Where Else to Put It: In a Corpse Reviver #2

AMERICANO What It Is: Aromatized and fortified wine defined by a blend of gentian, chinchona bark, and orange peels. ABV: 16% Where It's From: Italy How to Drink It as an Aperitif: In a small glass with 1 or 2 ice cubes, a splash of club soda, and an orange slice Where Else to Put It: In a Vesper

CAMPARI What It Is: Aromatic liqueur noted for its spicy bittersweetness from rhubarb, ginseng, oranges, and herbs. ABV: 24% Where It's From: Italy How to Drink It as an Aperitif: Chilled with a splash of club soda and a lemon or orange twist Where Else to Put It: In a Negroni

APEROL What It Is: Aromatic liqueur (milder than Campari) infused with orange, rhubarb, gentian, and chinchona bark. ABV: 11% Where It's From: Italy How to Drink It as an Aperitif: Chilled with a splash of club soda and a lemon or orange twist Where Else to Put It: In an Aperol Spritz

DIY DIGESTIF After-dinner drinks are important, too. A slightly richer and sweeter postdinner sip helps you to digest the meal just as a light and dry aperitif helped start it.

Berry Limoncello Hands-on: 30 min. Total: 5 days

6 large lemons 1 3/4 cups vodka 1 1/2 cups quartered strawberries 1 cup raspberries 1 cup sugar 1 cup water

  1. Peel lemons with a vegetable peeler. Scrape pith from peels. Place peels in a large pitcher; add vodka. Cover and let stand at room temperature, away from direct light, for 4 days.
  2. Place berries, sugar, and water in a pan over medium; boil. Reduce heat; cook 20 minutes. Cool.
  3. Strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth. Stir into vodka; discard solids. Let stand at room temperature, away from direct light, 1 day. Strain through a fine sieve; discard peels. Chill 4 hours.
SERVES 12 (serving size: 2 oz.) CALORIES 149; FAT 0.1g (sat 0g, mono 0g, poly 0.1g); PROTEIN 0g; CARB 19g; FIBER 1g; SUGARS 18g (est. added sugars 17g); CHOL 0mg; IRON 0mg; SODIUM 1mg; CALC 5mg

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