L'apéro - the French appetizer

Drinking cocktails with a low ABV (alcohol by volume) on a hot summer afternoon is one of the best treats in life. And since summer is finally here, I think it is high time to talk about the appetizer, in general, but also to introduce the phenomenon to you as it was introduced to me when I visited Ibiza last month.

Appetizer the French way - in Ibiza.

During my time in Ibiza, I was inaugurated in the French aperitif culture 'l'apéro' — or at least as it is celebrated among the friends of Tony and Hadrien who I was visiting for a week as they just opened up their restaurant Boodiou in the spring of 2018. Although the aperitif is meant to be consumed before a meal, I noticed during the week that it can, with no objection, be consumed any time of the day, really. When I first asked about the aperitif as a cultural and social phenomenon, Tony and Hadrien as well as their friends, who by the way all come from the southern regions of France, explaied to me that they could not describe it with words — but that they would show me. In the same second, they also wished me "bonne chance", which in French means "good luck".

It's been a while now, since my week in Ibiza, but I still find my mind frequently wandering off to that magnificent Spanish Mediterranean island with its typical macchia biom, mesmerizing horizon and history-drenched old town. I went to Ibiza to visit my friend and bartender colleague Tony Comas who together with his best friend Hadrien Rigat, recently opened a restaurant and cocktail bar called Boodiou, which is a Southern French slang and translates to “Oh my God”. I followed them in their work during the week and was swept away by their skills and admirable gastronomic creations both in food and in drinks, and at the same time I got to enjoy "life in Ibiza" through local socializing. Most of Tony and Hadrien's friends are of French origin, and I got to re-experience the drink culture that I got familiar with when working for a while with Tony in Montpellier in the south of France back in 2014. Mainly, they drink pastis on ice topped with still water. They also drink beer and wine and the occasional suze tonic. And sometimes they "heat up" the pastis with a dash of almond sugar and then call it Mauresque.

I never heard any of my friends on the island refer to the appetizer-phenomenon as an aperitif, so we leave that word and talk about l'apéro from now on, which is the conventional abbreviation of the word 'apéritif', which in turn is a word that can be derived from the Latin 'aperire' which means to open. So, in short it aims to "open up" the taste buds on your tongue, or open the palette to enhance the flavors of the approaching meal, as well as to stimulate the appetite. By extension, it also aims to "open up for the evening". But in Ibiza, l'apéro could start even before lunch — and thus open up for a long day in a particularly Dionysian spirit.

L'apéro is much more than a drink.

This occasion with its special flavour-profile has captured my curiosity as it has been in the pipeline in the bar industry for some time now. It is called "The low ABV cocktail movement", where ABV stands for 'alcohol by volume' and thus indicates a global cocktail movement that highlights low alcohol drinks. The fact that l'apéro (or 'aperitivo' which is the Italian and Spanish and the more common word associated with the low ABV movement) is fronting this movement has its natural cause due to the lower alcohol percentage that people nowadays demand to a greater extent, and to the fact that the vermouth, various strong wines such as sherry and port, and the majority of herb liqueurs from southern Europe have received a qualitative and quantitative upswing in recent leading the products into the bartenders' arsenal, and thus they also appear on the shelves in cocktail bars world wide. These beverages are often bittersweet, and occasionally topped with some carbonated mixer for further flavor and volume expansion. Tonic, sparkling wine and soda water are common. The Spanish, Italian and French apéro differ slightly from each other in the product lane, but they follow the same concept — l'apéro is easy to drink. In addition to being a style of drinks, it is a social event where family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances meet before meals and enjoy these refreshing beverages with varying bitterness, which can thus serve as both mood enhancers and appetizers. Typical of l'apéro is that it also contains something small in terms of food that accompanies the drink without being to filling, as dinner is served shortly thereafter. But it is not uncommon for an apéro-gathering to simply turn into dinner and last all night. Doesn't it sounds wonderful?

I glance at the fortified wine.

If the low alcohol volume of l'apéro was the factor that first attracted me to dive into the movement, after my week in Ibiza with my French friends, I must admit it was a bit naive. The pastis does not have a low alcohol content, it's percentage reach to 40 - 45. Despite there was excessive drinking occurring during the week in Ibiza, my interest in l'apéro has not decayed. Once back home in Berlin, I turn my back to the pastis with its distinct taste of anise, to rather pick up products that I would call more sophisticated. For me, and for bartenders all over the world, l'apéro opens up a new infrastructure in the craft itself as we create drinks — and partly for new flavor profiles as well. I have for a long time been working with a base inspired by classic recipes with hard liquor when creating new cocktails, but working on recipes which honour the conditions of l'apéro, especially making drinks using strong wine as a base, presents new challenges fetched from new sources of inspiration.

I'm very into sherry and port wine right now, and this summer I like to sip, around the clock, on an Amontillado sherry on ice topped with tonic water and a lemon slice. Experience the taste-expansion!

Next time I go to Ibiza I will definitely focus on the Spanish expression of l'apéro; aperitivo, and make sure to visit all the island's wineries.

Happy summer!

/ Tina Shine

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