In France, the traditional Apéritif is a ritual! Before eating dinner (and sometimes lunch), the French like to have an apéritif with friends – a cocktail, liqueur or fruit juice. It isn’t traditional to have this with every meal but more when sharing with friends and family – either at home or at a restaurant.
The apéritif is normally served with light snacks such as olives, little cheese snacks or crackers, nuts or crisps – it is a chance to relax and chat before eating – an opportunity to build up the momentum to a great meal! An apéritif is also called an apéro for short in France.
It’s common to touch glasses and say “Santé!” (good health!) or “Tchin Tchin!” (cheers!)
Traditional drinks like Pastis (add five parts water and watch it turn milky for a true French experience) or strong alcohols like whisky are served. You’ll also find local specialities (every region will have its own favourite) and some well-known cocktails will be offered, particularly in restaurants.
Here are our five of the best French aperitifs
Lillet is a wine based drink which can be red or white. First marketed in 1887 it was immortalised in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (inspired by Le Touquet) when James Bond ordered a barman to make “A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet… Three measures of Gordon’s [gin], one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Bond named the drink a Vesper after the character Vesper Lynd. The white Lillet is served with a twist of orange for a classic aperitif.
Kir and Kir Royale – White wine and crème de Cassis (blackcurrant) mixed in a small flute is a common apéro and very refreshing. Mix the crème with sparkling wine or Champagne and you have a Kir Royale! You can also have different crème mixers like peach and cherry.
Byrrh (pronounced beer— which isn’t very helpful if someone else wants beer!) is a red-wine-based quinine drink. Created in 1866 it is refreshing and slightly nutty. Caves Byrrh, is the largest producer of wine-based aperitifs in France.
Suze is a classic French apéritif which was created in 1885. It is a distillation of the roots of the gentian plant and is rather bitter and earthy but very refreshing.
Dubonnet is another classic French apéritif. Joseph Dubonnet created his namesake apéro in Paris in 1846.White Dubonnet is a dry white wine infused with herbs, while the red is sweet, flavored with spices and quinine.