10.18.10 by Shirley
Neyah White, the Cocktail Tease
Tempt your hunger with apéritifs designed to stimulate your appetite and loosen up those taste buds. Come on, you know you want it.
Neyah White is the barman that your taste buds desperately want you to meet, but your waistline is sending up a red flag. Having developed cocktail programs for some of San Francisco’s most well-renowned bars, he shares his secrets for lubricating your appetite with cocktails designed to ease you into the dinner experience.
served raw: apéritif cocktails … is any style of cocktail fair game to whet the appetite?
neyah white: It’s true that alcohol is a digestive stimulant so any cocktail will do just that in some way, but that’s a clumsy way of looking at dining. More properly, apéritifs should have the effect of scrubbing the palate and relaxing the mind, as well as getting the juices going. For this, low-alcohol, low-intensity drinks with bitter elements are pretty hard to beat.
are there certain spirits that work better as apéritifs?
I don’t think there is any spirit which is completely out-of-bounds intrinsically. Restraint is an important concept though. Two fingers of Islay Single Malt are not going to do a Caesar salad any favors. However, a champagne cocktail with the slightest dash of that same whisky is a tremendous way to prepare oneself. Beer, wine, fortified wine like vermouth and sherry, especially, are my favorite bases for this category. Low-alcohol is really the way to go and these bases are naturally that.
let’s talk about crafting certain flavor profiles for mixed apéritifs.
Bitter and oxidized are my go-to components. They both relate to that hard-to-pin-down concept of umami. Things loaded with gentian, like Italian Amari and French vermouth, fit this description, as well as dry sherry.
what about mixers like berries or lemon, are there any that work well in apéritif cocktails?
I actually try to keep the fresh fruit and citrus to a minimum in apéritifs. My not-so-secret weapon is vinegar. Shrub is the Colonial American typical apéritif. Simply put, it is a fruit syrup that has been fortified or preserved with vinegar. Acid, without citrus, carries flavor incredibly well. Also, sherry and shrub is just magic. I really like using berries that have short seasons like raspberries and huckleberries because they speak to the original purpose of shrub, as a means to preserve.
have you spotted any interesting apéritif trends in your recent travels?
The Japanese have recently rediscovered a passion for the highball, just whisky and soda, but it is a great apéritif. I was just in Tokyo at an after-work bar with about 200 young folk drinking nothing but highballs in the early evening. It blew me away … and made me hungry.
what’s your go-to apéritif cocktail?
Fresh vermouth and soda with an orange slice. I’m not good enough to beat this.
got any tips or tricks for readers looking to experiment?
Keep your vermouth in the fridge after you open it and try to use it up within the month. This is also your chance to use all those crazy little vintage cocktail and wine glasses you bought at that yard sale. Smaller is better here.
since we’re talking appetite, any food pairings you suggest with apéritif cocktails?
Salty, spicy and pickled … much like myself.
Sutton & Soda
Neyah White’s un-beatable apéritif cocktail.
- 2 ounces Sutton Cellars Brown Label Vermouth
- 2 ounces soda
- Orange slice, for garnish
- Add ingredients to a rocks glass and sip.