May I offer you something to whet your appetite?
Come on in, doll. We’re just getting things ready for tonight’s l‘heure de l’apéro, which is the fancy French way of saying happy hour. You see, today is National Aperitif Day so, of course, we’ll be doing our part to support Franco-American relations by celebrating the aperitif, also known as the before-dinner drink. But, first, a bit of background.
As you may have guessed, aperitif is a French word, from the Latin verb aperire, that means “to open.” The idea of an aperitif is to open’s one’s palate and stimulate the appetite. Drinking a small amount of alcohol before dinner is a custom that dates back to ancient Egypt, but the first recorded aperitif appeared in 1786 when Antonio Benedetto Carpano, an Italian distiller, invented vermouth in Turin, Italy. Of course, given the fact that Antonio was Italian, it was called an aperitivo.
Italian distiller, Antonio Benedetto Carpano
Enter the French and chemist Joseph Dubonnet, who created the first French aperitif in 1846. Called, you guessed it, Dubonnet, the drink was created to make malaria-fighting medicine go down a bit easier. A bit like that era’s spoonful of sugar. Anyway, the drink soon caught fashion and drinking an aperitif before dinner became a ritual across Europe. The custom eventually spread to the Americas as immigrants brought the practice to their new homes. The popularity of aperitifs surged again in the ‘70s with the advent of the American Happy Hour and it remains.
While there are a number of popular and delicious aperitifs on the market, including Campari and Aperol, our favorite is Lillet (pronounced lee-lay), the classic French before-dinner drink. Made from a secret recipe that includes Bordeaux grapes and citrus liqueurs, Lillet was created in 1872 in the quaint village of Podensac in Bordeaux by brothers Paul and Raymond Lillet.
Maison du Lillet in Podensac
Lillet comes in three varieties: Lillet Rose, which has a pretty pink color and a fruity nose; Lillet Rouge, which has a deep ruby color and hints of blackberry, cherry vanilla and cinnamon; and our favorite, Lillet Blanc, which has a soft golden color and wonderful hints of honey, candied orange, lime and mint. Served on the rocks with a slice of orange, LIllet Blanc is the perfect before-dinner giggle water for summer – light and refraissant. For a twist on the classic, try it with tonic and a slice of cucumber. Our two favorite Lillet recipes are below.
Lillet on the Rocks
Pour 3 ounces of Lillet Blanc into a glass full of ice cubes. Add a slice of orange and sip.
Pour 1 ounce of Lillet Blanc into a glass full of ice cubes. Add 2 ounces of tonic water and a slice of cucumber. Garnish with a strawberry and a mint leaf and sip.
À votre santé and, then, bon appétit, baby.
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