The French would call for an “aperitif” and the Italians, an “aperitivo.” The words come from the Latin aperire, meaning “to open.” Meant to open up the tastebuds in readiness for a meal, aperitifs lean to the dry — and somewhat bitter and aromatic — side as sweetness will discourage the appetite.
Europe is the home of the classic aperitif — when the ink was drying on the documents that created Canada 150 years ago, the Campari Family in Italy was already toasting the fifth birthday of the drink that bears its name. Campari remains a popular aperitivo, especially with soda and a twist of orange. Other aperitifs with European pedigrees include vermouth; the anise-flavoured Pernod, Pastis and Ricard; Lillet and Dubonnet; and white sparking wines including Prosecco.
Is there a distinctly Canadian style of the oh-so-European pre-dinner drink? How do aperitifs compare in popularity to cocktails? “Cocktails are very hip,” says chef Matt DeMille, who used to work at the Drake Devonshire in Ontario’s Prince Edward County before striking out on his owan. “Aperitifs [may be] next,” he suggests, adding they have not been pushed to the same extent. “If someone wants to promote aperitifs, [success lies] in how you design your menu and train your staff. They are for places that are serious about the dining structure, because they are classical and go with classical cuisine.” While prices for cocktails are in the $16 to $18 range, aperitifs are generally priced in the $8 to $12 range in DeMille’s experience.
As far as a distinctive Canadian style goes, he recommends the dark vermouth Antica with an ice cube and a twist of orange. “It is more robust for colder weather. It has a fruitcake kind of feel.”
In Toronto, Marijke McLean is a category manager for brown spirits at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). She predicts great things for the aperitif segment. “In the past few years, the trend has been growing in Ontario. We are now taking that time after work or before dinner. In Canada, we take advantage of the warm weather to have a simple aperitif such as an Aperol spritz. It doesn’t go away completely in other months, but May through August sees a spike.”
McLean says sales of “true aperitifs” were up 15 per cent this year over last. It is remarkable, she says, to see that kind of growth in long-established brands such as Campari, Benedictine and Pastis.
In fact, the sales growth of several brands over the last three years has seen producers struggling to meet the demand. “We haven’t yet seen the true sales potential,” says McLean.
A number of new brands will be hitting the LCBO shelves in time for warmer weather, including Peychaud — a new aperitivo that McLean suggests serving over ice with soda, bitters and citrus — and Capo Capo, a Canadian aperitivo McLean predicts will be a welcome variation on the traditional Negroni. “People are looking for authenticity. They want pure aromas and flavours so we are seeing more craft distillers and experimentation,” says McLean.”
Volume 49, Number 11
Written By Carol Snell