The concept of serving a special beverage before a meal to stimulate the appetite was developed centuries ago in Europe. Since the idea is to get your digestive juices flowing and ready your palate for the symphony of flavors promised by a fine meal, apéritifs tend to be dry or bitter rather than sweet, so as not to anesthetize or coat the tongue. Here are some outstanding pre-dinner cocktails served at local establishments where, most importantly, it's worth staying for the meal.
- Michael W. Bunch
Il Piemonte, Holland House Bar and Refuge
Cognac, Averna Amaro, fresh lemon, Rossi D'Asiago Limoncello
The mixologists at Holland House were early adopters of the latest craze for using high-end amaros, bitter liqueurs from Italy, and they employ the Averna particularly well in this cocktail. The gently herbal bitterness of the Averna nicely complements the sweet of the cognac and the tartness of the limoncello in a very refined cocktail.
Moose, City House
Cynar, house-infused lemon vodka, peach bitters, bitter lemon soda
The cocktails on the City House menu are named after the pets of employees, and Moose must have been a very good dog indeed. Cynar is, believe it or not, an artichoke-based bitter liqueur that was all the rage in the cocktail world a few years back. The bartenders at City House use its bittersweet flavor to outstanding effect in this bright and lively cocktail.
Altitude Adjustment, Rumours 12th & Division
Cocchi Americano, St. Germain, fresh lemon, lime and grapefruit, simple syrup
Cocchi Americano is the Italian equivalent to the French apéritif wine Lillet, which when substituted for vermouth turns a martini into James Bond's favorite invention, The Vesper. At Rumours, the Cocchi's sweetness interacts nicely with the tartness of the citrus fruits and the floral St. Germain for a satisfying way to take the edge off the day.
- Michael W. Bunch
Beehive, Lockeland Table
Cold River blueberry vodka, fresh lemon, simple syrup, lavender bitters
Artisan bitters have become a popular way for bartenders to expand their flavor repertoires while creating new cocktails, and the lavender bitters in the Beehive really raise this drink above the level of other flavored vodka concoctions. The low residual sugar and higher alcohol content of the Cold River contribute a nice additional punch to the experience.
Tulipano, The Oak Bar
Uncle Val's Gin, Cocchi di Torino, fresh lemon, light agave nectar, lemon bitters
The sweet floral aromas of spring and the tulip-shaped glass are the inspiration behind this delicious cocktail's name, and the Italian Cocchi di Torino gives it a nationality. The acidity of the lemon ingredients wakes up the palate and triggers your Pavlovian responses.
Corpse Reviver No. 2 (Elise's way), F. Scott's
Gin, Cocchi Americano, Cointreau, fresh lemon, served up in a cocktail glass rinsed with a dash of absinthe
The anise-scented absinthe contributes a nice touch of madness to this delicate, aromatic apéritif. The sweet orange of the Cointreau plays nicely with the tartness of the lemon, and bitter flavors are well known as appetite stimulants.
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