You or someone you know undoubtedly spent part of the summer drinking a spritz while on a European vacation. It was, I’m sure, delightfully refreshing. And it begs the question, why is America still so behind our Italian and French friends when it comes to starting the evening off with an aperitif?
The U.S.-based startup Lo-Fi Aperitifs is surely hoping to get Americans excited about vermouth and amaro, components of famed cocktails and aperitifs. They sent me a few bottles which I dutifully tried out in martinis, a Negroni, spritzes and even poured over a couple of rocks. What the Lo-Fi offerings lacked in Old World depth, they made up for with a brightness that introduced new flavor profiles to old favorites.
Curious about Lo-Fi and fresh off a stint of spritz-drinking in southwest France myself, I reached out to Lo-Fi brand ambassador Claire Sprouse, who is also bar manager of Sunday In Brooklyn, for clarification about these fortified wines. (Read through to the end for a great tip on how to transition into fall through an aperitif.) Here’s a lightly edited version of our email conversation.
Aperitifs are so popular in Italy and France but still a bit of a mystery in the U.S. Why is that?
It’s no surprise that aperitifs are so popular in Italy and France. Europe has a much deeper history of spirit and wine production compared to a relatively young pup like the United States. Aperitif culture is particularly strong in Italy and France because producers there always had easy access to the bitter herbs and floral botanicals that are bountiful in the Alpine region, which they call the “Cradle of Vermouth.” Some of these aperitifs are centuries old, so needless to say they got a good head start on the U.S. Luckily for us, some of these products have trickled over in the last few years and we’ve even seen some American-based producers get into the aperitif game.
Someone who doesn’t know vermouth asks you to explain it. How do you respond?
Not every guest that comes to the bar at Sunday In Brooklyn is a booze geek, and I often get asked to explain vermouth. Most often I start with the basics: it’s a fortified wine infused with botanicals and herbs to add flavors and aromas. Some skeptics might need convincing that properly stored vermouth is a far cry from the stolen sips of dusty vermouth bottles in their parent’s liquor stash, which was probably not well kept and essentially just spoiled wine. Others might recognize its use in classic cocktails, like martinis or Manhattans. Either way, the juice often speaks for itself, so getting a small taste in front of them will often pique their interest enough to learn more about the different vermouth styles, flavor profiles, and how sipping it in a simple aperitif is where it really shines.
What’s a good cocktail or easy aperitif to start with for the novice?
I think most people can be won over with a good simple spritz. An aperitif brightened up with soda and sparkling wine is such a perfect, easy drinking cocktail that’s suitable for so many occasions.
Lo-Fi Aperitifs puts an American spin on some classic spirits. I know you’re biased but how do you feel they compare?
Lo-Fi Aperitifs was inspired by European aperitif traditions, but they definitely put a new world twist on them. They are wine-forward, which is the most notable difference; instead of the wine being more neutral and just a vehicle for the botanicals, Lo-Fi showcases it as an important part of the flavor profile. The botanicals themselves are non-traditional and the line infuses from whole plants rather than using artificial flavorings.
What’s the right way to segue from an aperitif into drinking wine with a meal?
Grapes like grapes, so I tend to move from grape-based aperitifs like vermouth or the Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro, which is brighter than traditional Amari, into drinking wine.
Obviously aperitifs can be seasonal as well. What are some tips for easing into fall?
I think a really great dry apple cider, like you’d find from Basque country or Normany, makes a great topper for vermouth and other aperitifs. It warms up the traditional spritz with a go-to fall flavor.Moving into the holidays, they make great bases for punches. This time of year is all about gathering with friends or family, so having something that’s easy to serve but keeps it light is a really festive way to celebrate.