Serving a cocktail before dinner is both a courtesy to guests and serves a purpose. Known as an aperitif, the before dinner drink prepares the stomach for food and the palate for the delicious tastes it is about to enjoy. They can be served to guests at an elegant dinner party or enjoyed any night of the week at home.
Aperitifs come in many flavors and can complement a variety of meals. Many of the best aperitifs include gin, vermouth or another dry style of wine. There are also distilled spirits... like Campari and Aperol that have long been used as appetite stimulants on their own. It's only natural that the cocktails these are mixed into be classified as aperitifs as well.
I have selected just ten recipes to feature from the many possibilities. Included are a few favorites that have long been enjoyed with a meal. I have also tossed in a few obscure and fascinating cocktails that can challenge and enlighten your taste buds.
This list is a great place to begin as you discover how food and mixed drinks can play off each other and learn that contrast can complement just as well as a perfect flavor match. Have fun with your dinner drinks and experiment for yourself.
01 of 10
The Negroni is the ideal aperitif and it is the first cocktail that comes to mind when we discuss this class of drinks. Campari itself is designed to be an aperitif and in this recipe, it is paired with gin and sweet vermouth to create the ultimate before dinner drink.
This drink can prep your palate for any meal. I've enjoyed it most when a Cornish Game Hen was the star of the table.
You will also find that the gin and vermouth add a mellow aspect to Campari's bitterness and that helps... make the drink a bit more approachable for palates that are new to the flavor.
02 of 10
Another iconic aperitif is the Aperol Spritz. It is a simple drink that once again features a bitter liquor designed specifically for this purpose. Aperol's bitter orange is definitely more approachable than Campari and that makes it a good, gentle introduction to a genuine aperitif.
The Aperol Spritz is perfect with any meal and you'll love to serve it alongside flavorful dishes like this Harissa Roasted Leg of Lamb. The simplicity of the sparkling orange drink accents all of those herbs... and spices without interfering with the dish.
03 of 10
This Fabiola is an interesting cocktail. It's a refreshing take on the brandy-based Metropolitan, only in this case we use dry vermouth and add Grand Marnier. The orange is a fascinating contrast to the dryness of the fortified wine and sweet strength of a decent brandy.
It is a fabulous companion to any meal. Your guests will enjoy the play of citrus between the Fabiola and recipes like this Lemon Chicken With Mushrooms. Both recipes are simple and quick to fix up, making this is a great... combination for those last minute dinner parties.
04 of 10
We will continue with the simple aperitifs that go along with almost any meal. The popular Gimlet is up and this two-ingredient drink is the easiest on the list. All you need is your favorite bottle of gin and a lime cordial and an appetizing drink is born.
The Gimlet is perfect for summer dinner parties as it is a very light, refreshing cocktail. Serve a round of Gimlets to your guests as they sit on the patio and you finish up the spareribs on the barbecue.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
There are Campari cocktails and then there is the Campari Cocktail. This is the most Campari-forward drink you can mix because the only back up the bitter has is vodka and a dash of Angostura.
Campari's bitterness displayed with such boldness means that this cocktail is not for everyone. Once you do train your palate to love Campari, you will agree that few drinks can kick off a meal in style like the Campari Cocktail.
A pairing that is a personal favorite is the Campari Cocktail with a... classic Eggplant Parmesan.
06 of 10
The Autumn Leaves recipe has a compound of interesting flavors that begins with pisco and Drambuie and brings in a hint of Campari and lime. It's fascinating on its own and even better as a prelude to complex dishes like this Genoa-Style Stuffed Pork Loin.
If your guests don't see you mix up this cocktail, they'll be wondering what you put into it because it is so unique. It is certainly an adventure in flavor and a fun one at that!
07 of 10
Tarragon makes an appearance in this modern cocktail that could be thought of as an enhanced Manhattan. The Bourbon and Blood features the smooth taste of Woodford Reserve with sweet vermouth and brings in that bitter orange of Aperol.
This cocktail has a darker profile and it is great to pair with a lighter pasta dish like this Butternut Squash and Pear Ravioli. The contrast between the drink and the food is intriguing and sure to be the talk of your dinner party circuit.
08 of 10
If you're in the mood to get really fancy and have a truly unique taste experience, give Rimbaud's Left Hand a try. It is the most complex drink on this list, mixing absinthe, Benedictine, Aperol, lemon and pineapple in equal parts with a little egg white thrown in for texture. It's an aperitif that is memorable, to say the least.
Want to get really wild? Serve it alongside this Pineapple Chicken with Coconut Rice Wrapped in Banana Leaves. I don't typically recommend pairing... pineapple with pineapple, but there is so much going on in both courses that it really doesn't matter!Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Tequila can make a fine aperitif if it is mixed right and DeLeon Tequila's Salud Cocktail is a perfect example. The drink combines their silver tequila with a rare sherry, a bit of pineapple and a hint of passion fruit and absinthe.
That combination of bright fruits, dry wine and rich tequila accented ever so slightly with anise is a great primer for spicy meals. Give it a try with this easy Chicken Enchiladas Suiza recipe.
10 of 10
When no other cocktail seems absolutely perfect for your dinner table, you can always fall back on the classic Martini. It is a perfect complement to any meal but is particularly nice with lighter foods like this Tagliatelle with Baby Artichokes.
Not only is the Martini the epitome of an aperitif - gin and vermouth with a dry profile - it also makes a great choice because the recipe can easily be adapted to individual tastes. You can make every guest happy and it doesn't matter if they prefer... their Martini dry, perfect or served as a Gibson.