If you’re planning on having friends over for dinner, start the occasion off with a round of aperitif cocktails. Aperitifs are meant to function as a liquid appetizer to help open up the flow of conversation and are the perfect way to welcome your guests and set the tone for the evening.
We’ve got a list of our top 8 favorite aperitif cocktails, as well as the types of food they pair best with to help make your planning easier.
1. The Aperol Spritz
As aperitif cocktails go, none are more famous than the Aperol Spritz. The focus of the cocktail is Aperol, an aperitif from Italy with a trademark red-orange color and a bitter, herbaceous, slightly floral flavor.
The Aperol Spritz may be a simple drink to make but is much more complex on the palate. The classic recipe calls for 3 ounces of prosecco, 2 ounces of Aperol (or your favorite Haus aperitif), and an ounce of club soda. Add the ingredients to a glass (wine glasses work best), stir, and garnish with an orange slice. Try a dehydrated orange slice instead if you’re working on your sustainability, which creates less waste.
The drink pairs well with a charcuterie board, lamb, fresh fruit (especially citrus like orange, clementines, and tangerines), and arancini.
2. The Gimlet
The Gimlet takes its name from a drill used to bore holes on British Royal Navy ships in the 1950s when the cocktail started to gain popularity. Like the Aperol Spritz, the Gimlet looks simple on paper. However, the flavor of the drink makes it far more accessible than the Spritz, as the bitter taste of Aperol can be challenging for some people.
To make a Gimlet, add 2.5 ounces of gin (many bartenders recommend Plymouth style gin), 0.5 ounces of freshly squeezed lime juice, 0.5 ounces of simple syrup, and ice to a cocktail shaker. Shake until well-chilled, then serve over ice in a cocktail or rocks glass with a lime wheel garnish.
Gimlets are great in the warmer weather, and it pairs well with summer foods like barbeque or steaks on the grill, salmon, or lighter foods like sushi.
3. The Old Fashioned
If your guests like to really taste their alcohol, the Old Fashioned is the perfect starter drink. Aperitif cocktails don’t get much older than this, as it is thought to be one of the oldest cocktail recipes (dating back to the 1880s). The Old Fashioned has so much importance in the cocktail world that it is considered one of the essential cocktails to know how to make and is included on the International Bartender’s Association’s list of competition drinks.
Old Fashioneds are made with 0.5 teaspoons of sugar, 2 ounces of bourbon (or rye whiskey), 3 dashes of Angostura bitters, and a teaspoon of water. Combine the sugar and water in an Old Fashioned or rocks glass and stir until nearly dissolved. Fill the glass with ice, add the bourbon, and gently stir. Finish with an orange peel.
Because Old Fashioneds are heavy hitters, they pair well with heavier foods like bacon, pork chops, and steak. Spiced nuts are also an excellent snack to serve with this cocktail.
4. The French 75
The French 75 is another drink with a lot of history, potentially stretching all the way back to World War 1. The drink makes an excellent aperitif because it is light, refreshing, and won’t knock you over or ruin your appetite. It’s also a perfect cocktail to make for celebrations, as Champagne features prominently!
To make a French 75, you’ll need an ounce of gin (London Dry gins work well), 0.5 ounces of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 0.5 ounces of simple syrup, and 3 ounces of Champagne (or another sparkling wine). Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker, shake until well-chilled, and strain into a flute. Add a splash of Champagne, and garnish with a lemon twist.
The cocktail pairs well with anything citrus-forward and can be served before a heavy meal or with a light appetizer or dessert course. Like the Gimlet, the French 75 also is perfect for serving with sushi.
5. The Spicy Margarita
Very few aperitif cocktails bring the party the same way margaritas do. The drink just screams “fun,” and they tend to be a hit with everyone. If you’re having people over that enjoy a little bit of spice with their drinks, why not up the ante with a spicy margarita?
Start by gathering your ingredients — 2 ounces of blanco tequila, 0.5 ounces of orange liqueur (like Cointreau), an ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice, 0.5 ounces of agave syrup, and two freshly cut jalapeno coins with the seeds removed. Muddle the jalapeno coins in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, then add ice and the remainder of the ingredients. Shake well, strain into a rocks or Margarita glass, and serve with a jalapeno coin.
For a much easier cocktail, try 3 ounces of our Grapefruit Jalapeno with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a splash of tequila over ice.
Spicy margaritas can pair with anything, especially spicier options. They also make an excellent pairing for tacos and nachos.
6. The Mojito
Mojitos are another light option, and the drink looks just as delightful as it tastes! Considered the national drink of Cuba and a supposed favorite of the writer Ernest Hemingway, the mojito is a party pleaser and is well with a little extra effort.
To make a mojito, you’ll need three fresh mint leaves, 0.5 ounces of simple syrup, 2 ounces of white rum, 0.75 ounces of freshly squeezed lime juice, and club soda. Muddle the mint leaves at the bottom of a cocktail shaker with the simple syrup, then add ice along with the rum and lime juice. Shake briefly, strain into a highball glass filled with ice, top with club soda, and garnish with a lime wheel and mint sprig.
You can pair mojitos with most fish and seafood, chicken, or just chips and salsa or guacamole.
7. The Hot Toddy
Not every drink you serve to your dinner guests has to be served cold over ice. The Hot Toddy is the perfect example of how a warm drink can serve the same purpose, especially when served around a campfire when the temperatures start to drop.
The classic Hot Toddy recipe takes a little bit more time and effort than other drinks, but the result is well worth it. You’ll need four cloves, a lemon peel, 2 teaspoons of brown sugar, 0.25 ounces of freshly squeezed lime juice, and 2 ounces of the whiskey of your preference.
Fill a mug with boiling water, giving it a few minutes to warm the cup. Once it’s warm, empty the cup and fill it again with boiling water, stopping halfway this time. Add the brown sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Then, add the cloves to the lemon peel by sticking them into it, and stir that into the mug as well. Finish with the lemon juice and whiskey, stir and serve!
If that sounds like too much work and too many ingredients, you can combine 3 ounces of our Citrus Flower with 2 ounces of warm herbal tea (we prefer Crysthanamum) and serve with lemon for the same effect.
Pair a Hot Toddy with homemade pinwheels, oatmeal cookies, or a fruit and cheese plate.
8. The Martini
Martinis are another classic aperitif cocktail to serve before dinner. However, compared to many of the other drinks on the list, Martinis have a higher ABV, so guests should drink with caution.
There are many ways to make a classic Martini, and much of that comes down to individual taste levels. We like a Dirty Martini, meaning it is made with olive brine. To make one for your next dinner party, you’ll need 2.5 ounces of gin or vodka, 0.5 ounces of dry vermouth, and 0.5 ounces of olive brine. Mix together with ice until chilled, strain into a martini glass, and garnish with an olive skewer.
If your guests aren’t olive lovers, leave out the brine and add a dash of orange bitters and a twist of lemon instead (this is considered a Dry Martini).
Martinis, and especially Dirty Martini, pair well with a variety of different foods. Try a cheese board with a mix of creamy and stronger cheeses (like Gorgonzola), salty meats, and more olives.
Having guests over and really getting to enjoy your time with them is one of the great pleasures in life. Starting with a round of aperitif cocktails can help get the conversation flowing and start the night off on the proper foot. Plus, when you are able to sit around and sip cocktails in a welcoming environment, you are far less likely to be dealing with a day-ruining hangover the next day.