Need a sharpener? Use your noggin and have a snifter
Aperitifs are the new cocktails, for winter that is. When it’s too cold for a sundowner, pour yourself an ‘opener’
“Sharpeners, snifters, apéros or noggins: we all know what we mean,” says Kate Hawkings in the introduction to her inspiring new book, Aperitif, published by Quadrille.
Noggins? Not sure of that one. Sweetly, it was her granny’s word for the first drink of the day (or, more usually, evening), that moment that Hawkings says announces “the most civilised and cheering of drinking habits”.
She certainly knows her stuff. Not only a writer and drinks consultant, Hawkings has also worked in restaurants ever since she was a student.
Her book contains more than 30 aperitif and long- drink recipes – all easily achievable by an amateur. “Cocktails can be tricky to get right,” she says. “That’s why cocktail bars exist. So aperitifs should be things that can be knocked up quickly at home at the end of the day.” A great idea for these cold winter months when we can use a little warming up.Also, cocktails have a whiff of summer about them, with their tropical colours and often icy consistency. Aperitifs are much more of a wintry drink.
Aperitifs are usually served before a meal, hence the name which means “to open” – ostensibly because they open a path to the stomach for the meal which is to follow. They are usually dry rather than sweet and can be a mixed concoction of alcohol – vermouth, champagne, pastis, gin, rakı or other styles of dry sherry, for example – or served straight up.
There are heaps of mediocre books on drinks and cocktails, but Aperitif is a gem, stuffed with history and anecdotes as well as recipes, and written with energy and wit.“Drinking aperitifs can be a diverting hobby,” says Lisa Futterman of the Chicago Tribune in an article about the South African aperitif, Caperitif. “You’ll learn geography, culture, history, folklore and botany, all in one glass.”
Try these for a diversion from wine, beer or cocktails that are best enjoyed in the more balmy months:
Caperitif, South Africa
From the cellar of Kalmoesfontein and the mountain slopes of the Paardeberg, it is made by AA Badenhorst Family Wines. Chenin blanc fortified with spirit, sweetened by the sugar of the grapes, embittered by cinchona bark and flavoured with 35 truly Cape ingredients such as fynbos, kalmoes and naartjies.Try it on the rocks, garnished with a twist of orange or a sprig of fynbos. The Badenhorsts particularly like it mixed with tonic and recently started making Swaan tonic water infused with the local quinine, lime, cardamom and mint.
Combine one part gin, one part Caperitif, top with your favorite tonic water and toast to enjoying the last few weeks of winter.
Inverroche gin, South Africa
Each Inverroche gin – Classic, Amber and Verdant – uses a different recipe containing between 20 and 30 varieties of fynbos and more traditional gin botanicals, such as juniper.
Drop three blocks of ice in a glass, add a tot of gin and finish with a splash of tonic water and wheel of grapefruit for an unsweet version of the classic G & T.Campari, Milan, Italy
“Campari is chic once again,” says Hawkings. “A classic Campari and soda takes some beating but try it with white wine, in a spritz, or beef it up in a Negroni.”Heart of Darkness, Durban, South Africa
This all-natural spirit aperitif made by Distillery031 in Durban uses Arabica Coffee from Tanzania, grown at high altitude on the slopes of Mt Meru.Distillery031 also makes an aperitif in which Zanzibar cinnamon bark and wild dagga are combined, adding a subtle minty flavour. Also known as lion’s tail, wild dagga is indigenous to KwaZulu-Natal. This herb won’t get you arrested, because although it resembles the cannabis plant it does not contain any THC. Check out their site for a range of other aperitifs.