8 best alternative aperitifs
Want to sip on something out of the ordinary this summer? We've got just the tipples
With the sun sitting high in the sky and the mercury soaring, refreshing drinks are key. It must be spritz time.
But there’s more to aperitifs than just Aperol and Campari. With ever more interesting launches looking to challenge these traditional bitter tipples for their crown, we’re taking a look at the best alternative aperitifs.
So, what is an aperitif anyway? Traditionally a drink consumed before a meal to stimulate the appetite, aperitifs have become an occasion in their own right in recent years, with the revival in fortunes of a number of long-established bitter spirit and liqueur brands. No one specific drink type defines aperitifs. But from vermouths to sherry, herbal liqueurs to gins and pastis, they do have some traits in common. Unlike digestifs that are typified by sweetness, an underlying dryness and bitterness are key.
But we’re looking for something a little less traditional. From recently resurrected versions of previously forgotten spirits, to new takes on established favourites, entirely new spirits, or classics produced in non-traditional regions, our list covers the best of the new-wave of aperitifs.
Bitterness, dryness and for some, a hint of spice, remain important. We’re looking for complexity. And we’re also looking for drinks that keep these key traits when mixed, while also working alongside other ingredients – spritz time here we come. So, let’s raise a glass to your new drink of the summer.
Badenhorst Caperitif, 17.5%: £24 for 750ml, Harvey Nichols
Revived from a once-famous South African aperitif lost since 1910 when the company that made it disappeared, Caperitif stays true to its roots with distinctly local ingredients. Made from a Chenin Blanc fortified with spirit, bittered by quinchona bark and flavoured with around 35 indigenous Cape ingredients such as fynbos, kalmoes and naartjies, this vermouth tastes unlike any other. Winey, but with a discernible amount of spice on the nose, there are hints of orange peel, clove, ginger, and rooibos tea. Dry but with a slight acidic sweetness, it’s by turns fruity and bitter. Sip neat and it’s intense. Sip long with tonic, ice and a little garnish of orange peel and you have a beautifully refreshing, distinctly different summer drink. And at only 17.5 per cent, it’s perfect for those seeking a lighter drink, without skimping on flavour.
Sweetdram Escubac, 34%: £27.45 for 700ml, Amazon
Ice and lemon with that? Why yes. Be warned, the makers of this tipple are very keen for you to know that this is "not a gin". So much so that it says exactly that in large letters on the bottle. So, what it is then? Well, crucially juniper-free, Escubac is made from 14 botanicals, including caraway, cardamom, nutmeg, and citrus. Macerated for 72 hours, they’re then distilled, and sweetened with raisins, vanilla, a small amount of sugar, and saffron. Though initially having a whiff of Christmas cake about it, the heaviness is cut through with a sharp citrus kick. Being fans of especially bitter drinks, we could happily sip this neat with an ice cube. But whereas it’s loveably brutish neat, it’s coy and refined mixed with tonic and a wedge of lemon. There’s something almost menthol about the finish, with a coolness that’s akin to aniseed, which may divide opinion. But we’re sold. Make ours an E&T.
Pampelle Ruby L’Apero, 15%: £19.95 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange
From its striking bottle, to its ruby red colour, Pampelle is a pretty thing to behold. This brand new French liqueur is made from red ruby grapefruit from Corsica, yuzu from Japan, and bitter orange bigarade from Haiti. Thick, rich, and syrupy without being cloying, it’s beautiful sipped neat over ice, with an initial fruity punch followed by a lingering dry bitterness. Those rich, orange notes really come through. It’s that bitterness that makes it suitable for what we’d describe as a more accessible version on a negroni. Follow the recipe on the bottle and add vermouth blanc and gin. Or for a spritz serve, add three parts prosecco, to two parts Pampelle and one-part soda water.
Kamm & Sons British Aperitif, 33%: £30.75 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange
Launched by top bartender Alex Kammerling, this British take on the aperitif contains 45 botanicals, including fresh grapefruit peel, manuka honey, hibiscus, elderflower and juniper. But the most prominent is ginseng. Zesty and herbal, one of the key virtues of this tipple is its versatility when it comes to mixing. Tonic? Great. Bitter lemon? Zesty and refreshing. Or why not try a British Spritz by mixing it with elderflower cordial, English sparkling wine, and soda water?
Tanqueray Flor De Sevilla, 41.3%: £25 for 700ml, Ocado
One of the emerging flavour trends of the summer when it comes to alcoholic drinks is orange. Tanqueray has surely taken note with this new release. The gin is made with seville oranges, which were used in the brand’s original recipes dating back to the 1830s. Sweet, warming, and tangy with tangerine notes and hints of juniper and coriander, this has summer written all over it. The orange flavour is bold without feeling synthetic, a balancing act few drinks have mastered. Of course, it goes great with tonic, with a wedge of orange. Or add it to a negroni.
Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto, 20%: £29.95 for 700ml, 31Dover
Let’s address the obvious straight away: that bottle is a showstopper. This lightly spiced Italian liqueur is based on an original recipe from the 1850s. Made from Italian bergamot and cedro lemons, it’s certainly zesty. But there’s also an underlying mellowness, from chamomile, lavender, yellow roses and Melissa balm, and bitterness from gentian. The result is a liqueur that is fresh, lemony, grassy, and with a little bit of underlying spice. Though zesty and dry, we have to say that it’s the sweetness of the lavender that comes through strongly even when mixed with prosecco as recommended, and that can be a divisive flavour. But if Palma Violets are your thing, you’ll love it.
Malfy con Arancia, 41%: £34.99 for 700ml, Ginspiration
Another orange gin! We told you it was the flavour of the summer. This Italian gin comes from the Vergnano family who have been distilling in Moncalieri for over 100 years. Malfy con Arancia is distilled using Sicilian blood orange peels and Italian juniper, alongside just four other botanicals. A vivid pink-orange in colour, the taste is no less vibrant. There’s substantially less bitterness here, than in many of the other drinks on our list. So if you’re more a fan of fruit flavours, but still with a little complexity, than this might be for you. We think it’s bottled sunshine. Mix with peach liqueur and soda water, for a fruity long drink. Or just add prosecco for a take on the spritz.
Pococello, 29%: £24.50 for 500ml, Amazon
One of the most common reactions we get when it comes to limoncello is that it’s too sweet, to artificial tasting, and oddly neon. Well, forget all previous limoncello experiences. This one is different. The result of a partnership between the team behind Pizza Pilgrims restaurants and the Chase Distillery, Pococello was created to defy these common dislikes, using a potato spirit from Chase, and Amalfi lemons. Though limoncello is usually considered a digestif, we’ve included this on our list due to its distinct lack of sweetness, and wonderfully bitter lemon notes. By turns earthy, and zesty, all the flavours here feel ‘real’. And of course, we love it in a spritz, again mixed with soda water and prosecco. If it ain’t broke…
The Verdict: Alternative aperitifs
For its unique taste, sessionably low strength, and sheer value for money, we’re rather taken with Caperitif. Add to that that you just need one ingredient – tonic water – to create a complex, sophisticated, but infinitely quaffable cocktail, and we’re sold. Now all we need is the sunshine.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.