Aperol has commandeered the spritz! So how is it that an aperitivo liqueur brand has assumed credit for an entire category of drink that is simply sparkling wine + soda water + [insert liqueurs, vermouth, other aromatized wines here]?
As it turns out, the average consumer in America does not know much about the categorization of European liqueurs and wines, and knows even less about all the different ways those Euros tend enjoy them. So when Gruppo Campari spreads the word about the Aperol Spritz, the average person is liable to assume that this spritz thing, whatever it is, all orange and bubbly, belongs to Aperol.
But let’s take a step back. My business partner and I spend a lot of time in great bars and restaurants around the USA who work with our portfolio, and I see a lot of orange bubbly concoctions passed over the bar at these fine establishments. I recently took it upon myself to interject into the ritual of pulling that spritz from bar-top to one’s lips for a nice refreshing sip, and ask fellow spritz lovers what it is they enjoyed about aperitivo liqueurs. Well, most people looked at me, all doe-eyed, and said ‘what’s an aperitivo liqueur?’ A few said they like how such liqueurs blend with prosecco. Still others said they like the color (a fabulously vibrant red or orange, typically). One eccentric lady just looked away and said ‘the elegance of Europe in a glass? What more could one want.’
So what is Aperol anyway? For those of you new to lower ABV cocktail ingredients, Aperol is an aperitivo liqueur. This category comes in two main forms, although there exists a spectrum between the two. The light end of the spectrum is orange and sweet and includes products such as Aperol, Rinomato Aperitivo, Luxardo Aperitivo, Casoni, Contratto Aperitivo. The bitter version of this category is gentian forward and includes products such as Campari, Meletti 1870 Bitter, Luxardo Bitter, Contratto Bitter, and even some newer USA players like St Georges Bruto Americano. Each product is quite regional and unique in style, and we will let it slide that St Georges’ use of the term Americano, an entirely different category that is gentian wine, is inaccurate, which I think proves my point about how little we here in America understand this sometimes confusing world of aperitifs. Even the spirits producers are mis-categorizing their products.
Okay, now that we have that covered, what actually is a spritz in its most basic form? Folklore has it that Austro-Hungarians who pushed down into northern Italy found the wine too strong and so added a splash of water (German: spritz) to mellow them out. I have also heard that these same Hapsburgs, while away from home, sought out a refreshing beverage reminiscent of the delicious beers they had left. It is after-all difficult to transport enough beer to satisfy a traveling Bavarian. Sparkling wine for the carbonation, aperitivo liqueur for the subtle bitterness that would have come from hops, and soda water to cut the sweetness. Voila, makeshift pilsner! Well not quite, but close enough. Actually, even better on a hot day, and a bit classier. And so became the spritz – although I am sure there is more to it, and who knows what actually transpired.
So why does everyone talk about Aperol Spritz, and not just spritz?’ Well, this is the booze industry in America, and a few companies have a lot of money to spend on popularizing once obscure ingredients. It just happens that some companies and government export departments have spent disproportionately on advertising and exporting their brands to the US mass market while other producers have opted to protect traditional production methods and grow organically through their domestic markets and reputation. If you take one thing away from this little thought of a blog post, it is that there are always more and different styles of any category to explore, and the brands featured front and center in the media are probably not the most authentic, nor the highest of quality.
As a lover of the spritz, I can only thank Gruppo Campari / Aperol marketers for bringing some attention to a style of drink that is delicious, that opens the palate and that works with pretty much anyone, anywhere, anytime. Spritz is an art form, really, with the soul of each drink susceptible to the mood, palate, and thoughts of its maker. What I cannot thank Aperol for is numbing that very creativity that defines the drink. There is no 3:2:1 standard for the spritz. There is no ingredient list to be followed. A spritz is just a bunch of liqueur or aromatized wine combined with sparkling wine and sparkling water, and some fruity or citrus garnish. It is a drink to play around with, to try with new aperitivo liqueurs, new sparkling wines, with vermouth, with quinquina, hell, add some tonic if you want to get crazy. Remember that about the spritz – it has no singular formula and it belongs to no brand.
On that note, here are two delicious spritz recipes to try, one inspired by our summer days travelling the Italian countryside to find authentic aperitif wines for our friends and customers in the US, the other inspired by a late night cocktail dinner we hosted in partnership with the Cochon555 tour. Keep on spritzing.
2oz Mancino Vermouth Bianco Ambrato
1/2oz Rinomato Aperitivo
1/4oz Big Gin or similar
1.5oz dry Prosecco or Cava
1oz San Pellegrino
Build in wine glass on ice. Quick stir. Garnish with grapefruit wheel, lemon peel, and a few raspberries.
3oz Yzaguirre Vermouth Blanco Reserva
2oz quality tonic water
Combine vermouth and tonic in a wine glass full of ice. Garnish with rosemary sprig and lemon peel.