While our ancestors were behind its original concept and name, it wasn’t until the late 18th century-early 19th century that aperitivo evolved into the social experience we’ve come to adore.
The northern city of Turin is much to thank for that. It was there that distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano created the vermouth (a widely popular aperitivo drink), in 1786, blending fortified wine with various aromatic herbs and spices.
It was also there that a strong cafe culture meant a growing crop of people began sipping said vermouth in the afternoons and evenings ahead of dinner time, often with something to eat, as it was deemed inappropriate to drink on an empty stomach – particularly when it came to female customers.
Aperitivo took the rest of Italy by storm shortly after that, just as more herbaceous, bitter, vermouth-based spirits began popping up.
In 1860, Gaspare Campari introduced his eponymous vibrant red, bitter beverage, widely served as an aperitivo with soda water or in cocktails like the Negroni and Americano (the exact recipe for Campari remains a secret today).
Alessandro Martini and Luigi Rossi followed suit around the same time, blending herbs, natural caramel, aromatic botanicals, and herbaceous plants to create their first vermouth, Martini & Rossi Rosso (this recipe, too, is another guarded secret).
Then came pharmacist Ausano Ramazzotti, whose bitter sold like hot cakes at the bar he opened just near the La Scala Opera House in Milan.
By the turn of the 20th century, aperitivo had entered Italian culture, and turned into a national pastime.