December 10, 2022 by Anna-Bet Stemmet
Italians are known the world over for living la dolce vita, and now the new season of The White Lotus has cast a fresh new spotlight on the most splendid tradition of the aperitivo hour. Let us introduce you to the convivial Italian happy hour and show you how you can weave this delightful custom into your hosting repertoire at home.
The history of aperitivo hour
The joyous notion of enjoying a cocktail paired with a light nibble before dinner is a tip of the hat to an 18th-century European tradition initially spearheaded in the northwest of Italy by King Vittorio Emanuele II, when he made vermouth his preferred pre-dinner drink. It was later carried on by Count Camillo Negroni, who invented the famous Negroni cocktail by blending vermouth, gin, and bitters.
The definition & purpose of aperitivo
The term aperitivo comes from the verb aprire, which means ‘to open’ – quite fitting, since an aperitif opens the dinner ceremony, while the digestif is its closing counterpart. Typically served an hour or so before dinner, these light and appetizing food and drink pairings are meant to stimulate both the appetite and the conversation.
Important aperitivo hour etiquette
If you are ever invited to attend aperitivo hour at a friend’s house, a local restaurant, or (dare to dream!) an Italian eatery abroad, here are two golden rules of etiquette to bear in mind:
Aperitivo hour only starts around 6PM
Italian happy hour starts around 6 PM and does not extend past 8 PM, which is when the dinner rush will normally start in an Italian restaurant. Ask your host beforehand whether drinks will be followed by dinner, so you know if you should stick around. Otherwise, it’s good manners to excuse yourself around 8 PM.
Similarly, the proprietors and servers at most restaurants that offer aperitivo appreciate it if their patrons are kind enough to clear out and make way for the dinner crowd before 8 PM. Unless they want to stay for dinner, of course!
Aperitivo snacks are not meant to be filling
By definition, aperitivo snacks are only meant to be an appetite booster. Do not expect to fill up on these little morsels as you would on a full dinner. Graze and enjoy, sticking to only a few bites if served from a communal platter.
Why Americans are loving aperitivo hour
Americans have been leaning into the aperitivo hour trend with gusto for the better part of a decade already. This is, in part, thanks to the influence of movies like Under the Tuscan Sun, and the fact that European travel fascinates most Americans.
In fact, aperitivo cocktails are so popular throughout the US that there are certain eateries that offer it all night long so patrons can sip and nibble a variety of drinks and snacks, rather than sitting down to full meals. Bellisimo!
The aperitivo menu
Keen to give Italian happy hour a go at home? Wonderful! Serving drinks before dinner is a very classy way to lay the groundwork for a fun evening of entertaining. Here are a few pointers from The Mixer team to pave the way:
Classic Italian cocktails obviously make a wonderful addition to a DIY aperitivo hour menu. Here are a few of our favorite light, bubbly drinks that pair well with balmy sunsets and entertaining banter:
The Aperol Spritz gets quite a bit of screentime in The White Lotus, and with good reason – it’s a very photogenic drink that sips as beautifully as it looks. Combining Aperol, Prosecco, and club soda, this is one of the easiest Italian cocktail recipes to master, leaving you with plenty of time to relax with your friends on a warm afternoon.
Light, effervescent, and lovely, the Hugo cocktail is made with elderflower liqueur, Prosecco, and club soda. It’s a delightful floral drink packing a flavorful punch at a lower ABV.
In Italian, the term Sbagliato means ‘broken’ or ‘mistaken’. The Negroni Sbagliato is a tongue-in-cheek name twist on the classic Negroni recipe which includes Prosecco as a surprise ingredient.
Combing the bitter-sweet orange flavor of Campari and the herbaceous character of Cinzano Rosso Vermouth, the Americano is a deep and richly layered cocktail laced with the effervescence of club soda to create the perfect sunset sipper.
Traditionally, aperitif cocktails are served with savory nibbles like cheese boards, cured meats, olives, and crackers. Since it’s only meant to stimulate the appetite before dinner, food is normally consumed in moderation, so it’s a nice idea to serve your guests bite-sized appetizers.