Aperitivo hour is the quintessentially Italian practice of taking some time out in the early evening to have a drink with a few snacks and socialise. It speaks to a particular Italian philosophy, that one should take time to appreciate delicious food, great drinks, family and friends: la dolce vita. A time to pause, savour the smallest of joys and forget the stresses of the day.
The practice is thought to have originated in the 18th century when Antonio Benedetto Carpano, an Italian distiller, mixed spices and herbs to muscatel wine and created vermouth. King Vittorio Amedeo III loved it so much he began serving it to his guests at receptions ahead of dinner.
The tradition was not democratised until the 1920s when gin-based negronis, allegedly named after the eccentric Count Camillo Negroni, became the drink of choice. Once the aperitivo hour had been embraced in the Piedmont region it spread from its capital Turin to Milan, Genoa and Venice before finally becoming a fixture across the entire peninsula. As aperitivo hour’s popularity grew so too did the breadth of what was on offer – regional flourishes would appear and the food and drink available extended to include first class Italian spirits and seasonal produce.
Lello Favuzzi, acclaimed head chef at Mortimer House Kitchen in London, associates aperitivo hour with happiness. “Aperitivo in Italy is for sure the translation of ‘happy time’, meant to stimulate your appetite for dinner, while at the same time a great opportunity to socialise, try plenty of different nibbles and, of course, to relax. Certain cocktails became something of an institution during aperitivo – anything with a base of Campari, gin, or vermouth is very popular.”
Gin, many don’t realise, is as Italian as aperitivo. Its origins can be traced to a monastery on Italy’s Salerno Coast in 1050 AD, Monks blended locally foraged juniper with spirit in the monastery kitchens for medicinal purposes. As the science of distillation advanced from the middle ages into the Renaissance the juniper infusion that gives gin its distinctive flavour remained by virtue of its aroma, flavour and purported medicinal properties.
Gin’s relationship with Italy has seen it expand out of the Salerno Coast and move to other regions across the island – the Amalfi coast’s stylish lifestyle is the source of inspiration for Malfy gin, for instance – and together with hand-picked juniper, the region’s famous sun-ripened lemons are a key ingredient in its Limone flavoured spirit.
Gin and tonic has the complex botanicals and slight bitterness to perfectly accompany the strong, salty flavours traditionally eaten alongside the aperitivo.
And the three flavours offered by Malfy – Rosa, Arancia and Con Limone – each draw on some of Italy’s finest ingredients, making them ideal for aperitivo hour, be it sitting out on a terrazza somewhere on the Amalfi coast, or mismatched deck chairs in an English garden with a couple of socially-distanced pals.
It’s no wonder that so many Italians based in the UK keep up this tradition, whether at an Italian bar or restaurant, or in their homes in the early evening as they take the time to reconnect with their heritage and with the people they care most about. In these times of disconnection and uncertainty we should take inspiration from our Italian counterparts and luxuriate within the things we can still enjoy and the bonds that remain.
Andrea Moccia is a senior producer at Secret Cinema, and since moving to London his love of aperitivo hour has not waned. “Aperitivos are that time where people come together before dinner to exchange stories and get the hunger and chat going,” he says. “My favourite thing is the sense of happening that comes with aperitivos, it can be a simple affair yet there is always such anticipation. The food needs to be light and savoury so it keeps you drinking and eating. Staples of aperitivos are different types of stuffed focaccias or simple bruschette. My favourite is focaccia with fresh figs and prosciutto crudo. Delicious.”
Once you have stacked a plate high with myriad Italian delights the only thing left to choose is which of Malfy’s gins best suits your mood. Do you fancy Gin Con Limone, full of the flavour of delicious sfusato lemons from the Amalfi coast? How about Rosa’s fragrant pink grapefruit from the citrus groves of the Mediterranean, or the bold Sicilian blood orange punch of Arancia? Whichever you choose, simply combine with tonic over ice and it is a drink and a time to be treasured.
The key to making the most of your aperitivo hour is to engage all five of your senses and to mindfully take in the full experience. Feel the summer sun warm your skin, listen closely to the conversation around you and relish in the crunch of fresh focaccia with salty prosciutto or the smooth, creamy ricotta in between sips of your ice-cold aperitivo.
Malfy Gin is available to purchase in selected Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, M&S, Waitrose and Co-op stores, as well as Ocado and the Malfy Gin Amazon brand store
Please drink Malfy Gin responsibly. For the facts, visit drinkaware.co.uk