What, I ask you, is more fun to eat than a snow cone? Very few things, of this I am sure. While I’m all for the classic fruit syrups poured over the compacted ice, as an adult, I’ve become quite fond of swapping in syrupy aperitifs like Campari and sweet vermouth. It’s sweet like the snow cones of my youth, but with more complex bitter and floral notes — plus, it makes an early evening cocktail especially fun to consume.
My love of snow cones actually started at home, believe it or not. While I’d certainly eaten the icy treat at summer carnivals as a kid, one of my most prized toys was, in fact, a petite snow cone machine. I’d plop ice into a cavity and the machine would grind out crystals just waiting to be flavored. I’d then compact the ice into a little plastic cup and pour over a flavoring — tending to prefer to use peach and mango Snapple from the fridge over the cherry or blue raspberry syrup mixes that came with the kit.
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While I (obviously) never used Campari at this early point in my snow-cone-making career, the concept hit me years later on a particularly hot summer day. I’d purchased a snow cone at a street fair, then wandered over to meet friends at an outdoor bar, where I ordered an Americano (the cocktail, not the coffee). I poured a splash of the drink over my lemon snow cone and thought, Oh, my God. Was I the first to make an aperitif snow cone? I couldn’t possibly be, but I knew at that moment I certainly would not be the last.
To make your own aperitif snow cones, you don’t need any fancy equipment, just a blender with an ice-crushing mode. (And, of course, a way to make or procure ice.) When it comes to the flavoring, I like to mix a drink first, minus anything especially diluting (ice, seltzer). My favorite ratio is two parts red bitter aperitif (Campari or Aperol are easiest to find and boast the brightest colors, but if you can get your hands on St. Agrestis’ Inferno Bitter Aperitivo, I’d recommend giving that a whirl for the most exciting flavor); two parts sweet vermouth (blanc or rouge) or any style of Lillet; and one part fresh orange or grapefruit juice. This should be mixed together and chilled until very cold.
This style is the most straightforward to put together, but you could certainly have a bit more fun and channel the tri-colored snow cones of your youth. Place a few brightly colored liqueurs (in addition to the reds and oranges, grab a yellow limoncello, Suze, and a green Chartreuse) in individual squeeze bottles to paint stripes on your snow cones. Could you go even further and mix a Negroni, Manhattan, even a Martini in snow cone form? Be my guest.
Aperitif Snow Cones
- 6 ounces bitter red aperitif, such as Campari, Aperol, Cappelletti, or Luxardo Bitter Rosso
- 6 ounces sweet vermouth, vermouth blanc, or Lillet (any color)
- 3 ounces fresh orange or grapefruit juice
- A few dashes Angostura bitters (optional)
- 6 cups ice
- Combine the red aperitif, vermouth, grapefruit juice, and bitters if using in a liquid measuring cup or lidded jar. If you have time, cover and chill this mixture until very cold, at least two hours and up to two days.
- When you’re ready to assemble the snow cones, place the ice in a blender — depending on the blender’s power you may need to work in batches (about 1 ½ cups ice per serving). Cover and run the blender until the ice has become snow-like. Immediately use an ice cream scoop to firmly pack about ½ cup of the crushed ice into individual cups. Drizzle about 1 ½ ounces of the aperitif mixture over each serving of ice, and serve.