For the French, the fleeting interlude between a long workday and the evening meal is not meant to be hectic or crazed. Instead, that time is a much needed chance to pause, take a breath, and reset with light drinks and snacks. As a ritual, it goes back generations. Whether it’s a quick affair before dinner or a lead-up to a more lavish party, apéritif is about kicking off the night, rousing the appetite, and doing so with social connection.
For food stylist and author Rebekah Peppler, a longtime fan of spirits, the fascination with the tradition of apéro actually began when she was still in Brooklyn, unaware of its existence. In her new book Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way (Clarkson Potter) she writes, “I was sick of paying twelve dollars a round, so I started stocking my bar and bringing cocktail hour home. While my lovely, sun-drenched, 250-square-foot studio was, well, 250 square feet, there was a roof. It wasn’t much, but it was big with a view of Manhattan. In good weather, the roof became an extension of my apartment: a dining room, a living room, a place to gather to watch the sun drop and usher in the evening, drinks in hand.“ When she moved to France, she understood that very ritual had a name.
The act of making time for apéro itself is as ingrained as the drinks and snacks served — all of which are covered in the book, its chapters divided by the (environmental) temperatures in which one would likely consume them. Peppeler includes original cocktail recipes that use lighter, low-alcohol spirits, fortified wines, and bitter liqueurs that have influences from both Old World and New, but are always low fuss and served barely embellished—an easy feat to pull off for the relaxed host at home. The bites she includes are equally as breezy (think Radishes with Poppy Butter, Gougères, Ratatouille Dip, and Buckwheat-Sel Gris Crackers). Favorite recipes from leading bartenders and historical context/pop-culture anecdotes for each of the go-to aperitif spirits make it a smart and useful guide.
But writing the book was also a revelatory experience for Rebekah, something she explains in depth in my interview with her on the latest episode of The New Paris podcast. There, we talk about the tradition of apéro, the spirits, the modern execution of the ritual, the photography by Joann Pai and a whole lot more. Stream the episode on my website HERE or subscribe and listen on iTunes! And of course, pick up your copy — the book hits shelves today!