What makes a drink an aperitif? It's more of a concept than a category. Loosely described as any drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite, the aperitif is meant to open up the senses without overwhelming them. In other words, it's there to gently ease you into a lengthy night of food and drink (ahem, pretty much every holiday gathering). For this reason, they're usually light, bone dry (not sweet), and low on the alcohol. An aperitif says, "let's slow this night down and savor each moment," rather than "let's turn things up a notch."