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American aperitifs for French friends

I've invited our neighbors, a couple from France, over for dinner. I'm serving a U.S.-themed menu (no way am I cooking French), including shrimp cocktail, pot roast, mashed potatoes, and apple crisp.

But I'm unsure about U.S.-themed drinks. Does anyone have suggestions on a good before-dinner drink? Or an after-dinner one?

I'd love to hear what you think would work!

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  1. I think the choice would largely depend upon what you and your guests like and how challenging a cocktail you want.

    If you like whiskey, the Scofflaw cocktail was created at Harry's American Bar in Paris in 1924. It incorporates rye (American), dry vermouth (French), lemon, and grenadine. There are many ratios. I chose to use the one from Ted Haigh's book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. It not particularly challenging (for good or bad) and it bridges the Atlantic with it's history and ingredients. Be sure to buy or make good grenadine -- that fluorescent red crap will ruin it.

    If you and your guests are very adventurous, I might go for A Moment of Silence. It also has rye and includes American apple brandy (for which the French have, of course calvados). It includes two Italian amari (Averna and a rinse of Campari) plus a big dose of Caribbean Angostura bitters. It is a fabulous drink -- sort of a Manhattan for the brave (despite having no vermouth).

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    1. Part of this depends upon where you live (i.e.: what's available in one place may not be available in another); part of it depends upon the couple themselves -- are they more into spirits or into wine?

      Do you want to serve a California sparkling wine as an aperitif before dinner, or are you thinking more along the line of cocktails?

      1. Nothing beats a good Manhattan.

        1. Well, you could try American versions of typically French drinks. Methode Champenoise sparkling wine (don't call it champagne) like Domaine Chandon or Cuvee Mumm. Or a brandy made in an alambic still (as cognac is) like Germain Robyn. Or you could go the American ingredients route - something based on Tequila or Mezcal - or something based on chocolate or chili peppers - there's a few drinks out there that use that. Then there's a whole raft of bourbon based drinks - I'd use a non-harsh bourbon like Makers Mark rather than something like Wild Turkey.

          1. Excellent suggestions--thank you so much! If I can find a good sparkling wine here in small town Florida, I will try that for an aperitif. But most likely it's cocktails. Our friends like both wine and spirits.

            I have no experience with American rye. Any suggestions on a good brand?

            1 Reply
            1. re: debclark

              In a small town, you may have to take whatever rye is available. Even economical ryes, like Jim Beam (in the yellow bottle), aren't bad. If Old Overholt is the only one available, it's okay too. I would prefer any of Rittenhouse, Wild Turkey (rye, not their more popular bourbons), Bulleit (excellent), Redemption, etc.

              You can use it to make either a Manhattan (rye, sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters) or the Scofflaw.

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            2. Why not a Jack Rose made with Laird's Applejack and homemade grenadine?

              1. The sazerac--a New Orleans original made with American rye and French Pernod--might set the right tone of bonhommie:
                Chill cocktail glasses thoroughly
                Shake 2 parts rye, 1/2 part simple syrup (optional, but important IMO, especially if they aren't serious drinkers; some podered sugar could substitute) and two dashes Peychauds bitters.
                Put a few drops of the Pernod in chilled glass, tilt to completely coat the sides & pour off excess (or pour into next glass to be coated). Add contents of shaker and garnish with lemon twists.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Poindexter

                  Great idea! The Sazerac is definitely a very nice cocktail. You could use Absinthe (French or otherwise) for a more authentic recipe. The usual preparation -- don't know why -- is to chill one one old fashioned glass with ice while you prepare and chill the cocktail in the other. Discard the ice from the first and strain the second into the first (chilled) glass. I think it's fine to use a mixing glass, but the cocktail should be stirred (not shaken) and strained into a ice-free chilled glass.

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                  1. re: Poindexter

                    Great idea. Love a good Sazerac, especially in colder weather.

                  2. How skilled are you at making drinks?

                    Honestly, some of the most satisfying aperitifs are rather simple. A glass (2-4 ounces) of Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano (similar to Lillet), or Dubonnet Rouge with a few ice cubes in a rocks glass is great especially with an orange peel twisted over the top to express the oils.

                    One of my favorite aperitifs is an extra ingredient of 2 oz of dry vermouth + 1/2 oz fruit shrub (available commercially, but easy to make) + an orange twist. Aperitifs should be low in alcohol and not very sweet to prepare and not ruin the palate for food. Americans have a different view of before dinner drinks than French people do.