You’ve got your pals, a patio, and the golden hour. All that’s missing are drinks. What better way to celebrate than with aperitifs: low-alcohol cocktails served with light snacks.
The goal of an aperitif is perhaps a bit more convivial and a bit less utilitarian than the classic American happy hour. As Drew Lazor puts it in his new book How to Drink French Fluently, “The aperitif celebrates the beginning of the night.” In other words, no one should be drinking heavily, but rather sipping on light cocktails that are geared towards whetting your appetite. “The utilitarian function of an aperitif is to get you ready for dinner,” writes Lazor, “not ruin it.”
Lazor has several tips on how to properly host an aperitif party:
Keep the drinks simple. The cardinal rule of aperitif hour is to relax, so make sure you’re catching up with friends, and not frantically preparing cocktails and ignoring your guests. Bubbly cocktails like a spritz or a champagne cocktail are common, but a crisp beer or glass of chilled white wine is totally acceptable, too.
Stock up on bubbles and liqueurs, like Campari, Aperol, and St-Germain. Put out some wine glasses and an ice bucket, and let guests combine champagne and their liqueur of choice over ice. And if you’re feeling fancy, put out a bowl of orange twists or berries for garnish.
Batch your cocktails beforehand. If you’re set on serving something a little stronger for your aperitif party, make big batches before the party and let guests serve themselves from pitchers.
Keep the snacks simple, too! Some nice fruit from the farmers market and a few interesting cheeses will do the trick.
And that’s pretty much it! “Don’t forget that the aperitif, or l’apéro, is more than a ritual—it’s a state of mind,” reminds Lazor. And if there was ever a state of mind suited to summer, l’apéro is it.
Paula Forbes has reviewed cookbooks for nearly a decade for sites like Epicurious, Eater, Eat Me Daily, and now Food52. She's currently working on a cookbook about the foods and restaurants of Austin, Texas.