These are the appetizers of the spirits world. The word comes from the Latin amperire, “to open up,” as in to open up your palate and prep your digestive system for a fine meal. As a category, aperitifs cast a wide net, encompassing everything from the Aperol spritz to the Negroni to a small glass of Cava to a Pastis. Typically it’s something dry and a little bit bitter, light and maybe bubbly.
“AN APPROACH TO SOCIAL DRINKING THAT LEADS TO DEEPER CONNECTIONS”
The way third-generation winemakers Helena and Woody Hambrecht tell it, this is how Europeans have been drinking forever. And it’s why they created their own unique low-ABV aperitif spirit, Haus. “Aperitif culture is a way of drinking,” Helena told me, an approach to social drinking that leads to deeper connections throughout the evening, without the accidental drunkenness. “It’s about control.” And it’s not limited to before-dinner drinks.
I was so taken with the barely-sweet, botanical blends when I tried Haus with the Hambrechts that I went and ordered a bottle for a fancy dinner party I had the following week.
“YOU CAN REALLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE INGREDIENT CHOICES.”
Before Daniel de la Nuez and Aaron Fox created their line of natural botanical spirits, Forthave, the two were nerding out over centuries-old herbal medicine recipes and collecting vintage spirits. “The thing we came across is that the further back you go to pre-1950s spirits,” (in other words, before the advent of artificial ingredients) “you can really taste the difference in the ingredient choices,” Nuez says.
Like the Hambrechts, Nuez is inspired by European aperitif culture. “It’s something that I grew up with,” he says. “In Spain you go to these lunches where you start with something light, like vermouth, to get your taste buds going.” Fox studied painting in Paris, where he fell in love with natural wines and spirits. Together, they began developing their own aperitivo recipes in their home kitchens and at the Williamsburg restaurant Fox owned then, and before they knew it, the dining world was catching up with them.
APERITIFS HAVE BECOME PART OF THE DINING EQUATION.
The Marseille is the first in Forthave’s historical line of spirits. They also have a line created around colors: Red (similar to Campari), Blue (like gin), and Brown (crafted with single-origin coffee liqueur). I had a spritzer with their Red one chilly night while waiting for my table at Gaskins, a farm-to-table Hudson Valley, NY restaurant, and noticed it indeed had the bitter orange notes of Campari, but with deeper herbal tones that somehow made the drink’s experience feel lighter. It harmonized well, as I nursed it with my tart cabbage and gochujang salad and my duck with spaetzle.
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