Low-ABV Cocktail Recipes Using French Apéritifs

A bottle of wine

Maybe you woke up hungover on Sunday, January 1, and thought, I will never drink again… only to be seduced the following weekend by a naughty little Negroni. Maybe you decided to do Dry January with your gym buddy while you prep for an ill-advised half-marathon, but you miss Rest Day Happy Hours at the local dive. Fear not. New Year’s Resolutions should exist in a no-judgment zone, and just because you didn’t do the whole Whole30 doesn’t mean you can’t still make some gentle cuts to your weekend drinking. French apéritifs like vermouth, quinas, and gentian liqueurs make great low-ABV substitutions for high proof cocktails when you want your stiff drink to be a little more flexible. While these apéritifs can all be drunk on their own with ice, soda, or a splash of citrus, they can also be used to create complex and flavorful cocktails, no hard liquor necessary. See our recent interview with David Phillips at Haus Alpenz to learn more about these classic French favorites and what to pair them with.

Roussillon Adonis

Adonis cocktail with Rancio Sec

An Adonis is essentially a Manhattan that uses sherry instead of whiskey, transforming this ballbuster of a cocktail into something that will give you a kick to the tastebuds, not to the liver. Instead of sherry, this version calls for Rancio Sec, an oxidized wine from Roussillon. Stir Rancio Sec, vermouth, and bitters over ice to chill, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry or orange twist.

2 oz Tresmontaine ‘Tabacal Dos’ Rancio

2 oz Sweet red vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Cherry or orange twist (optional)

Byrrh Toddy

Byrrh Toddy

Byrrh is a port-like aromatized wine with a lot of body. She’s thick and won’t apologize for it, so the trick is finding something that will match her power without clashing with it. Her surprise soul mates are black tea and orange bitters, which you can brew into a version of a hot toddy. Perfect for mid-winter nights on the porch where you want to stay warm without pounding back whiskey-spiked hot beverages. Brew your tea, remove the tea bag, and add brown sugar, Byrrh, and bitters, stirring gently to combine. Top with hot water as needed.

1.5 oz Byrrh

1/2 Tbsp brown sugar

6 oz black tea

2 dashes orange bitters

Squeeze of lemon (optional)

Salers White Spagliato

White Spagliato with Salers

Unfortunately for the folks at home, my obsession with White Negronis and Spagliatos has reached an acme: the White Spagliato. Salers, a bitter gentian liqueur, is the dominant flavor in this drink, which is complex in flavor but light in both color and alcohol content. You can also use Mattei Cap Corse Quinquina Blanc in place of Salers for something less intense. Just stir the Salers and vermouth together with ice, then strain into a fancy little glass and top with sparkling wine.

1.5 oz Salers

1.5 oz Comoz Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry

1.5 oz Sparkling wine

Cap Corse Paloma

Paloma with Mattei Cap Corse Quinquina Blanc

Mattei Cap Corse Quinquina Blanc will change your life. Trust me. This beautiful liqueur from Corsica is flavored primarily with cédrat, a rare citrus from the South of France with an almost salty-savory flavor profile. It’s not a flavor you want to overpower, and those in the know prefer it over ice, perhaps with a twist of grapefruit. But adding a tiny bit of grapefruit juice brings out the complex citrus in the liqueur. Shake the Cap Corse and grapefruit juice and serve over ice, topping with soda water as needed.

3 oz Mattei Cap Corse Quinquina Blanc

1 oz grapefruit juice

Soda water (optional)

Bonal Shandy

Shandy with hard cider and Bonal

Bonal is a combination gentiane-quina, and pairs amazingly with apple brandy or cider. This recipe calls for dry hard cider, but if you want to use up an old bottle of Angry Orchard Rosé that someone left in your crisper drawer after a house party, it’ll work just as well. Add the cider to a glass with ice, then shake the Bonal and lemon juice and pour over.

1.5 oz Bonal

0.5 oz lemon juice

4 oz dry cider



Chambéryzette is a Belle Époque recipe originating in the Alps, made from sweet white vermouth and strawberry liqueur. In this recipe, you can simply muddle strawberries, or make a simple syrup out of them if you’re feeling fancy. Add ice, add vermouth, and stir to combine. Zhuzh with a spritz of lemon or some torn mint leaves as needed.

2 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry

2 strawberries, muddled

Slice of lemon or sprig of mint (optional)

Blanc sur Blanc

Citrus cocktail with white vermouth and Cap Corse

Cap Corse and Comoz vermouth strike a gentle balance in this beverage, highlighted by a mix of citrus juices. I opted for half a lemon, half an orange, and half a grapefruit, but any combination will do. Mix in a shaker and serve over ice.

1.5 oz Mattei Cap Corse Quinquina Blanc

1.5 oz Comoz Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry

1.5 oz mixed citrus juice (lemon, orange, and grapefruit)

Spicy Rancio Sec Sour

Rancio Sec Sour

With its whiskey-like qualities, as well as its natural salinity and woody characteristics, Rancio Sec is perfect for a smoky, spicy chipotle sour. Make your hot honey into a syrup by heating it over the stove with an equal amount of water. If you don’t have hot honey, use regular, and add a half teaspoon of finely ground ancho chili powder. Shake the syrup with the lemon juice and Rancio Sec, and strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube. Add a chili-salt rim if you feel so inclined.

1.5 oz Tresmontaine ‘Tabacal Dos’ Rancio

1 oz Hot Honey syrup

0.5 oz lemon juice

Chili-salt rim (optional)

Catherine Rickman is a writer and professional francophile who has lived in Paris, New York, and Berlin. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.

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