A light, moderately alcoholic beverage served to stimulate the appetite before a meal, aperitifs have long been a part of drinking culture in Europe. But now, Canadians are showing interest in this pre-dinner tradition.
At Odd Society Spirits, a Vancouver-based small-batch distiller, the decision to begin producing its now-popular Bittersweet Vermouth was the serendipitous result of the liquor-license requirements for its tasting lounge. According to Odd Society’s general manager Miriam Karp, the license limited them to exclusively serving alcohol produced at its on-site distillery (a law that has since changed). Unable to bring in outside liquor to mix with in-house spirits, the Odd-Society team began researching vermouth production so it would be able to offer basic cocktails such as martinis.
During the research process, Karp says “the distiller started to fall in love with all the various vermouths that were out there.” Odd Society ultimately opted to produce an Italian-style bittersweet vermouth that would be great for mixing, but could also be served alone as a strong aperitif. The vermouth (which retails for $22 at the distillery) was a hit with customers and Karp says it’s now one of its best sellers. “I’ve had people come in and say ‘I can’t keep up with the vermouth; I go through it so quickly,’” says Karp.
Aperitifs are proving to be equally popular at the LCBO, which reports an 8.9-per-cent sales increase in this segment for 2017/2018. Aperol (which retails for $27.95) and Campari Aperitivo ($28.25) are the top -selling brands.
Jay Carrington, front-of-house manager at Toronto’s Labora, a Spanish tapas restaurant, correlates the rise in popularity of aperitifs with the general movement towards lower ABV cocktails. “There’s a reason why Europeans have been drinking like this for a long time,” says Carrington. “People want to keep drinking, enjoy themselves and be social, instead of having two cocktails and calling it a night.”
Carrington says one of the restaurant’s most popular aperitif cocktails is the Cava I Vermut, a mix of house cava and De Muller Iris Blanco vermouth (which sells for $14 a glass). “Diners are more curious in general; they want to learn something, be introduced to something new,” says Carrington.
Greg Boggs, owner of Toronto’s The Ace restaurant, has a similar take on Canadians’ growing interest in aperitifs. “There’s been a general increase in interest in all things liquor,” says Boggs. “Experimenting with aperitifs seems to be a natural extension of that.”
Although The Ace has always carried aperitifs, Boggs says it began listing them on the liquor menu about a year ago to make it easier for customers to learn the different types and ask servers about them. “Putting them on our menus has definitely increased interest in experimenting with these drinks on their own,” says Boggs.
While aperitifs represent new territory for many Canadian consumers, they’re a familiar — even nostalgic — drink for others. “A lot of Europeans have praised it and enjoy it,” Karp says of Odd Society’s Bittersweet Vermouth. “It reminds them of home.”
Written by Jessica Huras