The perfect aperitif
By Marco Giovanetti –mtltimes.ca
Aperitif and Digestive. These two words are seldom exchanges in casual conversation but mean a wide assortment of spirits from around the world. While many Canadians might drink a before-dinner cocktail or a postprandial scotch or whisky, diners in Europe look in the direction of ancient and esoteric concoctions as the opening notes and final chords of a finely orchestrated dining experience.
More assertive than the average cocktail, the aperitif is not only a drink, but a social occasion, created for shouts of “Cheers!” and “Salud!” The bitterness of the before-dinner drink is designed to make your mouth water and liven up the tastebuds, an appetizer for the tongue. Licorice is quite popular: Pernod, a French anise-flavored liqueur, was created in the early 1900s to replace the banned absinthe, that most wicked of beverages. Ouzo from Greece, Italian Galliano, French pastis, Lebanese arak, Czech Becherovka, Salmiakki from Finland and Mexican xtabentún all make use of the sweet-bitter taste.
Digestivos (to use a lovely Italian word) are almost medicinal in nature, but while most digestives are designed to aid the stomach digest after a fatty meal, some, like the Italian sgroppino (lemon sorbet, vodka and prosecco) are practically a dessert itself. Europeans like cognac served warm, Spaniards love sherry alongside tapas and mixed in with very strong espresso afterward, while Germans drink Jägermeister, despite its hipster popularity, after heavy meats. Italians, the masters of the digestive, quaff an anise and elderberry Sambuca con la mosca (“with flies’’) topped with coffee beans — always three—or the almond-flavored amaretto or green walnut nocino after a rich late-night supper.
Below, are some aperitif and after dinner drinks options available at the SAQ. These suggestion will make a fine addition for your holiday table.
Cynar. Made from artichokes, this drink was invented in the 1950s, mixing the bitter essence of this vegetable with a dozen herbs to make an unexpectedly refreshing base for pre-dinner drinks. Venetians take it as spritz before lunch: Cynar, soda and prosecco, served with an olive and a twist of lemon zest. SAQ Code: 12332539. $18.10
Lillet. A curious French combination of wine and liqueur, Lillet, both red and white, adds sweet and bitter citrus and quinine to sweetened Bordeaux wines for a fruity and mildly bracing drink that is mixer and cocktail all in one. Lillet blanc, with origins in the 19th century, certainly wakes up the tastebuds before a meal. For the white, SAQ Code: 00953091. For the Red, SAQ Code : 10364406. Both cost $16.20
Digestives or After Dinner Drinks:
Limoncello. This is both a digestive and celebratory beverage, sweet and colorful but quite strong. From the sunny island of Capri and the winding cliffside Amalfi coast, where only Italians and the adventurous drive, Limoncello di Capri is made solely with lemons grown in Italy and is worthy of slow, pleasurable sipping. The SAQ has 5 listings of Limoncello and they range from $20.20 to $42.00. From the SAQ choices, my favorite is the Toschi Limoncello. SAQ Code: 00574889. Price: $22.50
Grappa: A bad grappa can be like drinking a short shot of lighter fluid. A good one, made from good grapes, is as heavenly after dinner as great brandy. A vineyard byproduct, grappa is distilled from the grape skins, seeds and solids left over from wine production. Some Italians drink sweetened espresso mixed with grappa for a caffè corretto, (a “proper coffee”). I personally prefer it, on its own, slightly chilled. Lots of good choice at the SAQ. Prices range from $32 to more than $500. A good Grappa will cost us between $50-$80. One of my favorites one is Arianna Occhipinti Grappa di Frappato. SAQ Code: $73.00. Available only at the SAQ Signature.
Spirits of the Week