If you’ve enjoyed a spot of al fresco drinking anytime in the past few summers, you will likely have spotted a neon orange drink, in a large wine glass chinking full of ice and beaded with condensation. The Aperol Spritz, a spritely, refreshing, bittersweet aperitif that hails from Venice has become a global phenomenon, dominating summer drinking and introducing everyone to a distinctly Italian practice.
Whilst the Aperol Spritz is the summer beverage du jour, however, the spritz itself is a wider category of drink that covers a whole host of colours, flavours and ingredients. In order to understand the category properly we must travel back through the mists of time…
The spritz originated in the late 19th century, when soldiers from the Austro-Hungarian empire billeted in northern Italy would dilute the local wines with a ‘spritzen’ of sparkling water.
‘To this day, if you ask for a spritzer in Germany you’ll be served a glass of dry white wine with a little bit of soda. That’s it – no ice,’ explains bar consultant Julian de Feral. ‘The idea was that they wanted to drink wine throughout their lunches, but during hot summers they wanted it to be refreshing and not as boozy.’
It wasn’t until the 20th century that the Italians started to add amaro, or bitter spirits, to the wine and soda water mix, creating the spritz that most people would recognise today.
But as Giorgio Bava, part of the family behind Cocchi aperitifs says, the spritz is much more than simply a drink. In Italy it is a moment in the day, an opportunity to pause in a piazza before dinner, snacking on cicchetti, or Venetian nibbles, and catching up with friends as the sun sets. ‘Spritz is a moment, a way of drinking with food,’ he explains.
When it comes to making a spritz, bartender Dino Koletsas – who has been working with soft drinks company Fentimans to create a new menu for their al fresco Spritz garden in London this summer – has a host of tips.
‘Try to use big, dry ice cubes, and use lots of ice in your glass – it will keep your drink colder for longer without too much dilution,’ he says. ‘Try to keep all ingredients in the fridge, and always build your spritz with still ingredients first, adding anything effervescent in the end a little at a time.’
Whether you simply want to add something sparkling to freshen up your wine, or go one step further and add a liqueur or aperitif, there are very few rules.
‘For me, a spritz should always have bubbles, be long and refreshing, be served in a wine glass, and flavour-wise it should have bitterness and sugar,’ explains Bava. ‘This to me is the essence. As soon as you have this construct, you can play around with it. There’s a spritz for everybody!’
The drink that reignited interest in the spritz category, Aperol brings a pleasing balance of bitterness and sweetness to the Prosecco, with notes of bittersweet orange, gentian and rhubarb coming to the fore.
- Ingredients: 75ml Prosecco, 50ml Aperol, 25ml soda water to top
- Glass: Wine
- Garnish: Orange slice
- Method: Fill the glass with ice and build the ingredients in the glass, first pouring in the Aperol, then the Prosecco and finishing with the soda. Stir and garnish.
This spritz reminds me of drinking Provençal rosé on a hot summer’s day, dialling the strawberries-and-cream aspect up to 11, with a hint of bitterness and a touch of spritz thrown in for good measure.
- Ingredients: 25ml Cocchi Rosa, 125ml rosé wine, splash of soda water
- Glass: Wine
- Garnish: Grapefruit slice
- Method: Fill the glass with ice, and build the ingredients in the glass, finishing with the soda. Stir and garnish.
Kamm & Sons is a British aperitif distilled with ginseng, grapefruit and manuka honey, and this Spritz is a flavourful celebration of British produce. It wears its bitterness relatively lightly, with the honey, elderflower and grapefruit flavours all coming to the fore.
- Ingredients: 35ml Kamm & Sons, 15ml Bottlegreen Elderflower Cordial, 50ml Sparkling English wine, 50ml soda water
- Glass: Wine
- Garnish: Grapefruit wedge and cucumber slice
- Method: Pour all of the ingredients over cubed ice and stir well. Squeeze a wedge of grapefruit into the drink and garnish with a cucumber slice.
The Never Ever Spritz
An offering for the non-drinkers, this spritz is so moreish, refreshing and complex that you’d never be able to spot that it’s zero abv. The gentian bitterness of the Everleaf plays pleasingly off the rhubarb tonic, with that rhubarb character also boosted by the ginger and lime.
- Ingredients: 40ml Everleaf Non-Alcoholic Aperitif, 15ml House of Broughton Ginger Syrup, 15ml fresh lime juice, 125ml Fentimans Pink Rhubarb Tonic
- Glass: Wine
- Garnish: Lime wheels and thyme leaves
- Method: Measure out all of the ingredients except the rhubarb tonic into a glass filled with ice. Stir well, then top with the Fentimans tonic.
This recipe is closer to the traditional spritzes of Austria and Germany, where sparkling water is added to still wine, and the Hugo Spritz is ubiquitous on bar menus in this part of the world. Because there’s no liquor obscuring the flavour, you can play around with the wine style or grape variety you use.
- Ingredients: 75ml aromatic dry white wine, 20ml elderflower cordial, 50ml soda water
- Glass: Wine
- Garnish: Mint sprigs
- Method: Build the ingredients in an ice-filled glass, finishing with the soda water. Stir and garnish.
Laura Foster has been writing about drinks since 2010. She was on the team at Imbibe for eight years, during which time she won the Alan Lodge Young Spirits Writer of the Year award, and has written for a range of titles including Waitrose Drinks, The Telegraph, stylist.co.uk and Munchies