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Aperitivo Time!

Here are a few of my favorite aperitivi. 

I did not write this article, but compiled this info some years back and did not get the author’s name. An English mixologist, no doubt…most unfortunate as it’s well written. Enjoy.

1/2 orange slice
1 lump (or cube) sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
2 oz (60 ml) rye or bourbon whiskey

Muddle orange, sugar, and bitters in an old-fashioned glass until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Fill with large cubes of ice (or carve one large chunk to fit the glass, if you are a true classicist). Add the whiskey. If you must garnish it, tradition calls for a “flag”–an orange slice and a Luxardo Marasche al Frutto cherry (available at Dean & Deluca) paired together on a cocktail pick.

It’s also the 150th anniversary of aperitivo, the most civilised ritual born in the Piedmonte capital of Torino. Aperitivo is the ancestor of the cocktail hour –the interval that marks the end of the work day and the beginning of the evening’s activities. A glass of red vermouth and a tramezzini (small sandwiches), canape, or other amuse bouche forms the centerpiece of the ritual, which includes conversation and relaxation in a cafe or al fresco in one of the city’s numerous colonnaded piazzas.

Two refreshing and appetite-stimulating concoctions arose from this ambient atmosphere: the Americano, created by Guiseppe Campari at his bar in Torino, and the Negroni, crafted by Gloomy Scarselli for Conte Negroni at the Bar Giacosa in Florence.

1 oz (30 ml) Campari
1 oz (30 ml) red Italian vermouth (Carpano or Martini & Rossi)
1 oz (30 ml) Plymouth Gin

Shake all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice until icy cold. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange twist or half-slice.

Anniversaries abound in this year of Our Lord 2006. Last but not least is the 150th anniversary of the word “mixologist,” which debuted in the July 1856 issue of The Knickerbocker Magazine: a New York publication famous for its illustrious roster of writers which included Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and William Cullen Bryant, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and John Greenleaf Whittier.

A few years later the most controversial, the most subjective mixologist’s concoction of veiled–and contentious–origins arose on the cocktail radar: the Martini. Some say it was eponymously named after the rifle, some say after Old Waldorf-Astoria bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia, some say after the dry white vermouth brand sometimes used in the drink, some say, some say…

You get the idea. Our favourite formula employs an ingredient that has long since disappeared in modern versions of the Silver Bullet–orange bitters.

2 oz (60 ml) Plymouth or Beefeater’s Gin (depending on your eference for floral or citrus gins)
1 oz (30 ml) dry white vermouth (preferably poured from a freshly-opened bottle)
1 dash Regan’s Orange bitters

Shake all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice until icy cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist made by paring the peel with a vegetable peeler to avoid putting the flavour of the pith into the drink.

Not all cocktails were devised by mixologists. Some had humble beginnings in places as far a field as the sugar cane fields the West Indies. The mojito is such an example. Born in the 1890s from thirst and a lack of hygienically clean water on the island of Cuba, the mojito began as a simple concoction of yerba buena mint (found growing beneath the sugar cane) and rum (the cheapest to produce and most plentiful liquid consumed in the Caribbean), stirred with a stick of sugar cane. When the drink made its way to the bustling urban center of Havana around the 1920s, it acquired a few more ingredients–soda water and ice. Hemingway popularized the drink among the American celebrity circuit, buying rounds for them at La Bodeguita del Medio. And Bacardi, the producer of the rum most commonly employed in its making, reintroduced to a new audience of cocktailians in the past decade.

We prefer making our mojitos the Spanish way–with dark rum instead of the usual white rum. And we use demerara or light brown sugar in place of standard white or caster sugar.

It is the Campari that is the medicinal “bitter” and provides the characteristic flavor of the drink. Compari was concocted by Gaspare Campari in the 1850s. Gaspare, at only age 14, was the master drink maker at the Bass Bar in Turin, which was the commercial center for aperitifs at the time. Campari is made with natural ingredients that include herbs, spices, bark and fruit peels. The exact formula is of course a highly guarded secret.

Harry’s Bar in Venice, much lauded as a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, is also the birthplace of the Bellini, a luscious concoction that bartender Giuseppe Cipriani created in honor of the Venetian painter Bellini, whose paintings had a glowing, luminous tone that Cipriani replicated by adding puréed white peaches to Champagne. (Only an Italian would name a drink after an artist because peach juice reminded him of a painting!)