In Italy, it’s very common to have an aperitivo a couple of hours before dinner in the evening. This is a time where friends or family get together for a catchup with a glass of something refreshing and a few nibbles to stimulate their appetite before the main meal.
As Italians generally eat quite late, the traditional aperitivo time can be anywhere between 7pm-9pm, which makes it an ideal welcome drink if you’re hosting a dinner party and will allow your guests to relax and unwind before the main meal. The custom originated in Milan in the 1920s, and while it’s more common in the north of Italy rather than the south, it’s becoming an increasingly popular event that many around the world are getting involved in.
The key to a perfect pre-dinner aperitivo is serving delicious, savoury food that goes beyond just nuts and olives. Think bruschetta and focaccia, crispy fritters and cured meats to impress. When it comes to the drinks, there are several traditional aperitivo cocktails that pair beautifully with the light savoury food and have the right balance of ingredients to make anyone ready for the main meal.
Typically, aperitivo cocktails will include Campari, dry vermouth or gin to wake up the palate. Here, we’ve compiled a list of the 8 best aperitivo cocktails to serve and enjoy at a dinner party.
The Negroni is the ultimate Italian aperitivo cocktail and one that must not be missing from your dinner party menu. Simple, yet sophisticated, the Negroni is easy to make and combines equal parts of gin, vermouth, Campari and bitters for a punchy and refreshing drink to have just before dinner. Served over ice and with a slice of orange, it’s not hard to understand why the bittersweet Negroni is one of the world’s most popular cocktails.
2. Aperol Spritz
Incredibly refreshing and easy to make, the classic Aperol Spritz is one of the most commonly ordered cocktails during the aperitivo time. Simply add three parts of prosecco, two parts Aperol and a splash of soda water for a light and delicious drink everyone will enjoy before the main meal. Whether you’re throwing a dinner party in the summer or the winter, an Aperol Spritz will always be a good choice.
The Milano-Torino is a cocktail that is often overlooked but greatly adored by Italian natives. First served in 1860, this cocktail is the blueprint for aperitivo classics and inspired a new generation of bitter-sweet cocktails with its distinct, rich flavour. Combining Campari, vermouth and bitters, the Mi-To is easy to drink and best when served over ice with an orange slice.
4. Peach Bellini
Light and sweet, a peach bellini is a perfect cocktail for any occasion, offering a smooth sipping experience. Created in the famous Harry’s Bar in 1945, it was named after Venetian painter, Giovanni Bellini and is the quintessential drink of Venice. Blending together peach puree with peach schnapps and prosecco, this fruity drink will go down a treat with your dinner party guests.
A classic gin cocktail that has stood the test of time, the zingy Gimlet is an ultra-refreshing drink and with a delightfully sharp kick. Believed to be invented in the late 18th century, the Gimlet was originally created for Royal Navy sailors to keep scurvy at bay on long ocean voyages. Since then, it’s become a favourite amongst regular bar-goers and cocktail connoisseurs. With a simple mix of gin and lime juice, this light cocktail is perfect to serve guests who tend to steer away from Campari and bitters.
Invented in the 1860s, the Americano was a direct descendent of the Milano-Torino. Consisting of Campari, vermouth and soda water, it was extremely popular amongst Americans (hence the name) during the prohibition era as they regularly requested a splash of soda to soften the bittersweet profile. While it may not be as popular nowadays, historically, it’s an iconic drink and one that every cocktail enthusiast should experience.
Nothing can beat the warm, rich flavours of whiskey mixed with the sweetness of vermouth and a twist of bitters featured in a classic Manhattan cocktail. Known for being one of the greatest ever cocktails, the Manhattan was created in 1870 at a New York reception held in the Manhattan club. Dark and delicious, the Manhattan not only works wonderfully as an aperitivo but as an after-dinner drink too.
Consisting of just two ingredients, the Garibaldi cocktail is just as easy to make as it is to drink and offers a sweet and tangy taste. Named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, a revolutionary who was a leading figure in the unification of Italy, this cocktail combines Campari and orange juice for a visually striking and delicious drink that’s perfect to enjoy just before dinner.
Want to discover more? Read our blog on traditional Italian aperitivo vermouth cocktails for a botanical twist.
Also, learn how to create the best dinner party menu for a fabulous evening that will no doubt impress all your friends and family.