For happy hours, pre-dinner drinks, and easy-to-make cocktails at home, look no further than aperitifs. Produced all around the globe, this versatile style of beverage is crafted across the entire flavor profile spectrum, from bitter to sweet and everything in between. Not only are these beverages super tasty, but they’re also ideal for kicking off a long meal—or simply heading into chill mode after a long day at work.
An aperitif is a pre-meal beverage that stimulates the appetite and kicks off the conversation.
Michele Alfonso, General Manager at Habitas on Hudson, explains that the word aperitif (in French) or aperitivo (in Italian) comes from the Latin word “aperire,” which means ‘to open.’ “An aperitif is a pre-meal beverage that stimulates the appetite and kicks off the conversation,” he explains, noting that aperitifs generally fall into two sub-categories: bitter liqueurs and aromatized wines. “Often distinguished by color, popular bitter liqueurs are either orange or red,” he explains, citing Aperol, Campari, and Cynar as the obvious choices, whereas popular aromatized wine categories include vermouth, chinato, and more.
According to Alfonso, combining a bitter liqueur or aromatized wine with a dash of soda or splash of prosecco can bring some of the world’s most delicious aperitif to life. And did we mention that aperitifs are generally lower in alcohol? With an ABV (alcohol by volume) landing around 15 to 25%, these are the perfect sippers if you're looking for a lighter, less boozy alternative to a spirit-forward, stirred cocktail.
Thirsty yet? We’ve carefully chosen the best aperitif options on the market, perfect for kicking off hearty meals, long evenings of drinking, or simple gatherings amongst friends. From the top picks for spritzes and cocktails to those best enjoyed on their own, we’ve got a number of solid choices that promise to wake up your palate and keep the party going all night long. Check them out, here.
In the vast world of aperitifs and aperitivi, one brand continues to satisfy both industry professionals and those new to the category alike: Select Aperitivo. Originally created in 1920 by the Fratelli Pilla & C distillery, today, the beloved beverage is crafted by the Gruppo Montenegro. Beyond tasting delicious on its own, Select is best known as the backbone to the Original Venetian Spritz, which combines prosecco, sparkling water, and of course, Select.
Alfonso states that he views the ritual of aperitivo as a social moment, generally spent amongst friends, family, or loved friends. “These lower-alcohol beverages open your belly and encourage conversation,” he says, citing that their bitterness and acidity awaken and cleanse the palate. “[A good aperitif] should communicate with your body that it is allowed to relax, accept food, and release stress,” he explains.
Price at the time of publish: $29.89
Region: Veneto, Italy | ABV: 17.5% | Tasting Notes: Bitter orange, rhubarb, juniper
Meletti 1870 Bitter Aperitivo
With roots dating back to 1870, Meletti is one of the original Italian aperitivi. Crafted from three separate distillates (sweet orange, bitter orange, and a spice/herb mix), the spirits are blended together to create a slightly sweet, complex, and unbelievably delicious flavor profile. Enjoy solo or mix with a splash of soda and vermouth to create an Americano-inspired cocktail.
Grant Sceney, creative beverage director at Fairmont Pacific Rim, describes an aperitif as a drink one can enjoy pre-dinner to open up your taste buds. “It is generally low ABV, but can also be used in a more spirit-forward cocktail, such as a Negroni, Martini or a Gin & Tonic,” he says. Sceney notes that aperitifs can vary from vermouths and bitters to pastis, sherry, or even certain cocktails.
Price at the time of publish: $32.39
Region: Marche, Italy | ABV: 25% | Tasting Notes: Sweet citrus, baking spice (cinnamon, clove), floral notes
Mattei Cap Corse Blanc Quinquina
In a sea of French aperitifs, Cap Corse is undeniably an industry favorite—and upon first taste, it’s pretty clear why. “Cap Corse is a quinquina-based wine spirit made for a fresh and bright, citrus-forward alternative to vermouth,” says Georgette Moger-Petraske, author of Regarding Cocktails and host of the NYC oysters and cocktails salon, Regarding Oysters, additionally stating that its compatibility with oysters cannot be overstated.
On the palate, flavors of lemon, honeysuckle, and herbs lead to a quinine-forward finish, thanks to the use of cinchona bark. When enjoyed on its own, Moger-Petraske prefers Cap Corse blanc over ice with a lemon peel, or as a low ABV long drink topped with Topo Chico.
Price at the time of publish: $26.99
Region: Corsica, France | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, honeysuckle, quinine
De Soi Can Variety Pack
Looking to partake in the delights of aperitif hour without the booze? Thanks to De Soi, your next favorite non-alcoholic aperitivo awaits. Crafted using natural adaptogens (the team cites reishi mushroom and ashwagandha as two of the main ingredients), as well as other natural ingredients such as pear juice and bergamot extract, these tasty sippers promise to stimulate your appetite and satisfy your libation craving without ever having to partake in alcohol consumption. De Soi non-alcoholic aperitifs are crafted by Morgan McLachlan, renowned distiller at AMASS. Best of all, De Soi aperitifs come in three different flavors: Golden Hour, Champignon Dreams, and Purple Lune.
Price at the time of publish: $68 (12 pk)
Region: California, USA | ABV: NA | Tasting Notes: varies depending on flavor
Best with Agave Spirits
Le Moné Meyer Lemon Aperitif
Launched in 2021, Le Moné is a line of wine-based aperitifs made in New York's Finger Lakes region. Each of their flavors features Meyer lemon and gets its sweetness from organic Blue Weber agave rather than sugar. Fortified with California brandy, their signature Meyer Lemon flavor features a blend of various citrus botanicals that really allows for the bright lemon aromatics to shine. Instead of a super sweet or overly acidic flavor profile, you might get from a limoncello or lemon liqueur, this aperitif has a soft, almost vermouth-like quality. And, with the addition of Blue Weber agave, it is a natural partner with agave spirits like tequila and mezcal. Use this aperitif in place of vermouth in a 50/50 Mezcal Martini with a twist of lemon.
When it comes to using aperitifs in cocktails, Moger-Petraske notes that balance is key. "Cocktail-wise, the perfect aperitif is never too spirit heavy, and never more than two ingredients—quite simply it's the ballet, not the boxing match,” she says, describing an aperitif as “the mirthful start” to an evening.
Price at the time of publish: $35
Region: United States | ABV: 16% | Tasting Notes: Bright citrus, lightly floral, lemon peel
Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
First created in 1786, Carpano’s Antica Formula has withstood the test of time for centuries. This iconic sweet vermouth is considered a bar staple by mixologists across the globe and is best known for its flavors of bitter citrus, dried fruits, vanilla, and spice. While we love using this benchmark bottle in cocktail creations, we recommend sipping it straight to truly experience the product’s unique flavor profile.
Nathan McCarley-O’Neill, head of bars for Torrisi Bar & Restaurant Major Food Group, states that he really enjoys aperitifs in their lightest form, which to him, means with a splash of soda, tonic, or sparkling wine. “A beautiful addition we have found is pairing aperitifs with sparkling lambrusco,” he reveals. “It adds a completely different complexity than using a sparkling wine such as prosecco.”
Price at the time of publish: $36.99
Region: Lombardy (Milan), Italy | ABV: 16.5% | Tasting Notes: Bitter citrus, dried fruits, vanilla, spice
Lustau Jarana Fino Sherry
Forget the stereotypes you’ve heard about sherry—this isn’t the stuff your grandma had under her sink for decades. Often overlooked, and seriously underrated, dry sherry makes for one of the most refreshing and palate-stimulating aperitifs out there. This bone-dry expression from Lustau is crisp, bright and laden with flavors of lemon, almond, sea salt, and hints of yeast. Pair with salty potato chips, Marcona almonds, or slices of Ibérico ham for an instant mental journey to Spain. (Note: For dry expressions of sherry, reach for those designated Fino or Manzanilla.) This is a reliable, textbook expression of Fino sherry in one of its finest forms.
Price at the time of publish: $15.99
Region: Andalucia, Spain | ABV: 15% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, almond, sea salt, yeast
Best for Cocktails
Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto
Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto is the brainchild of Italian mixologist and spirits connoisseur Giuseppe Gallo. After revisiting a recipe dating back to the 1800s, Gallo perfected this tasty, floral-driven aperitivo via the sfumatura process, which involves dissolving the essential oils of bergamot (sourced from Calabria), cedar, and others, and mixing them with Italian-made grain spirit. The resulting aperitif is a floral-forward sipper laden with flavors of bergamot, citrus, rose petals, and lavender.
Valentino Longo, ambassador and mixologist for the Italian Trade Agency, reveals that his favorite aperitif brand at the moment is Italicus. “It’s a brand unique on its own, as there aren’t any similar products to it on our market,” he says, noting that the liquor’s botanicals and aromas of bergamot are perfect when enjoyed as a Spritz or as a twist on a classic Negroni.
Price at the time of publish: $39.99
Region: Piedmont (Turin), Italy | ABV: 20% | Tasting Notes: Bergamot, citrus, rose petals, lavender
Best For Spritz (Bitter)
Best for Spritz (Sweeter)
They say that the classics remain the classics for a reason, and in the case of Campari and Aperol, the statement couldn’t ring more true. These historic, easy-to-find spirits are as reliable as they are delicious, and are equally enjoyed both on their own or in riffs on the classic Spritz. While Campari is darker-hued and tends to err on the more bitter side of things, the brighter-hued Aperol offers a bit more sweetness on the palate.
McCarley-O’Neill is a big fan of bitter aperitifs. “My go-to brands are the ones I find easiest to get, and also find within restaurants or bars, such as Campari, Contratto Bitter, and Aperol,” he says, stating that each of the above offers something unique and that there are a range of different ways to serve them that are both approachable and refreshing. Sceney agrees, describing Campari as an “easy go-to,” either in a Negroni or with soda. “The bitter orange flavor is a great way to start a meal,” he says.
Price at the time of publish: $17.99 (Campari) $19.49 (Aperol)
Region: Lombardy, Italy (Campari) and Veneto (Padua), Italy (Aperol) | ABV: 48% (Campari), 22% (Aperol) | Tasting Notes: Blood orange, red candies, herbal notes, quinine (Campari); Sweet citrus, woody, touch of vanilla (Aperol)
Nonino L'Aperitivo Botanical Drink
At Nonino, it’s all in the family—six generations deep, nonetheless. Now spearheaded by Cristina, Antonella, and Elisabetta Nonino, the family’s aperitivo bottling comes inspired by the ancient regional recipe of infusing botanicals and herbs with neutral grain spirit. This 100% natural aperitivo shows high-toned flavors of citrus on the nose, which carry over to the palate and mingle with grape-hinted flavors of citrus, flowers, and balsamic. 18 different botanicals are used to make L’Aperitivo Nonino, including rhubarb, gentian root, lime, and oranges.
Price at the time of publish: $41.49
Region: Friuli, Italy | ABV: 21% | Tasting Notes: Grape, citrus, floral, hint of balsamic
Faccia Brutto Aperitivo
Who says you need to look abroad to find delicious aperitifs? A number of thought-provoking concoctions are being made right in our own backyards, and Faccia Brutto is no exception. Crafted in the heart of Brooklyn by chef Patrick Miller, this riff on a traditional bitter is produced by infusing 17 different botanicals (both fresh and dry) with non-GMO neutral grain distillate for a period of two weeks. Post-infusion, water and orange peels are added to the mixture and steeped for one night. Flavor-profile-wise, this bottle falls somewhere between Campari and Aperol—think of it as the best of both worlds.
Longo reveals that aperitif beverages are best enjoyed with friends and a few bites. “This is really the secret to a perfect aperitif,” he says. Additionally, Longo recommends mixing aperitif liquors with low-ABV products such as sodas, wines, or amari to play around with their versatility. “Serve with some homemade chips, olives, and cheese—you won’t regret it.”
Price at the time of publish: $38.97
Region: New York (Brooklyn), USA | ABV: 24% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, rhubarb, hints of cola
Noilly Prat Extra Dry Vermouth
Crafted in the sunny south of France, Noilly Prat Vermouth was first invented by French herbalist Joseph Noilly, and since its early days, not much of the recipe or production process has changed. The wine base of this dry vermouth is produced mostly from the local varieties of Picpoul and Clairette, which is then macerated with approximately 20 different botanicals and spices. Although the exact recipe remains a secret, bitter orange peel, coriander, and chamomile are definitely used.
Price at the time of publish: $7.69
Region: South of France | ABV: 18% | Tasting Notes: Fruit forward, orange peel, sea salt
The Select Aperitivo is our top aperitif choice because of its legacy and worldwide appeal. This iconic brand is the perfect addition to a spritz—slightly less sweet than Aperol and a touch less bitter than Campari. Additionally, budget-friendly Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth is a great example of a versatile vermouth that can easily go from a cocktail modifier, to center stage.
What To Look For
For those looking for approachable, easy-to-find aperitifs, looking to bigger brands such as Campari, Aperol, or Noilly-Prat are a great (and affordable) place to start. For those with a bit of aperitif experience looking for something unique, reach for a bottle of Le Moné, Italicus, or Faccia Brutto. Whether an aperitif novice or a long-standing aficionado, taste each product on its own, then with a splash of something bubbly to experience the versatility of these flavor-packed drinks, as well as to determine which version you most prefer.
What makes a drink an aperitif?
According to Longo, an aperitif is generally a wine-based or spirit-based liquor fortified with spices and herbs that helps to “open” the appetite. Longo notes that the alcohol level of aperitifs is usually low, around 15 to 25% ABV, and the drinks are generally best enjoyed with a touch of sparkling wine, sparkling water, or other aperitif liquors.
“More than this, an aperitif is a state of mind,” says Longo, describing the ritual as a “way of living” in Italy. “We usually go out for an aperitivo before dinner, right after work; it is a moment of gathering, a moment where we can relax and chill with a quick drink and a few small bites before going back to our homes or going out for dinner,” he explains. In short, Longo describes the ritual of enjoying aperitifs as a “moment of joy.”
Are digestifs and aperitifs interchangeable? What's the difference?
Technically speaking, aperitifs and digestifs are quite different. Aperitifs are enjoyed before a meal, whereas digestifs are consumed after a meal. Aperitifs are meant to stimulate the palate and get your body ready for food, whereas digestifs are meant to aid with digestion. Lastly, aperitifs frequently hover around the 15-25% ABV level, whereas digestifs are usually much stronger. While the two are certainly interchangeable—drink what you want when you want, as they say—there’s definitely a reason why certain products are deemed aperitifs, while others are classic digestifs.
What kind of alcohol is used for an aperitif?
Aperitifs can be produced from a base of wine or neutral spirit, depending on the product being made. Whether wine or spirit-based, aperitif products are frequently macerated with a variety of herbs and spices, so as to bring ample flavor to the final product.
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Vicki Denig is a wine, spirits, and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. Her writing regularly appears in major industry publications, including Liquor.com, WineSearcher, Decanter, and beyond. Vicki also works with a prestigious rolodex of monthly clients, including Paris Wine Company, Becky Wasserman & Co, Corkbuzz, Provignage, and beyond. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine. When not writing, Vicki enjoys indoor cycling classes and scoping out dogs to pet in her local parks.