Not many people would do a double-take when invited to happy hour. The custom of getting tipsy on discounted drinks, often while nibbling fried food, is solidly American — and dates back to Prohibition.
Swap the term “happy hour” with aperitivo, however, and you might elicit a blank stare.
Yet aperitivo, happy hour’s spiritual ancestor, is creeping back into vogue. The custom can be traced back to Italy in the late 18th century, when a Turin distiller named Antonio Benedetto Carpano steeped herbs in wine to create vermouth. In doing so, he jump-started a ritual of sipping bittersweet drinks (as well as eating snacks) before dinner that still persists across Italy.
So notes Kay Plunkett-Hogge in the book “Aperitivo: Drinks and Snacks for the Dolce Vita” (Mitchell Beazley, 2017), one of the excellent food and drink books published this year, which cinches together notes on vermouth, Campari and bittersweet cocktail with recipes for pre-dinner nibbles such as Calabrian deviled eggs with ‘nduja sausage and pancetta.
The book is part of an aperitivo zeitgeist. The pre-dinner custom (as well as its French counterpart, apero) has been trending on social media, and light, fizzy aperitivo cocktails are multiplying across drink menus — even if the concept founders slightly in the United States, where we tend to eat dinner pretty early, and soon after we get home.
Grabbing an hour to chill with a glass of sparkling wine or aperitif before dinner may seem indulgent, but gets the digestive juices flowing and is a ritual that deserves to persist past the holidays.
Just keep it light — such as this twist on a Negroni that subs sparkling wine for gin called Negroni Sbagliato (listed in Plunkett-Hogge’s book, and in various drinks books).
Combine 2 ounces each of Campari and red vermouth over ice in a rocks glass, and top with prosecco. Garnish with an orange slice or twist. Makes 1 drink.