I think it goes without saying that things are pretty damn confusing right now. Who would have predicted that May of 2020 would have so many unanswered questions? Plus, with so much disinformation out there, it’s hard to know what is “fake news” and what is actual truth. Hopefully I can help set the record straight and answer some of those questions, because it’s spritz season, and you’ve got some drinks to make.
The spritz, or spritzer, is typically made with white wine and sparkling water. It’s origins, like most ubiquitous cocktail styles, are storied and speculative. One possible origin traces it back to Hungary in the mid-1800s, when a bottle of sparkling water — a relatively new and popular invention — was given to a winemaker who mixed it with his wine. Thus, the Hungarian fröccs was born and is still a tradition today.
The German translation of fröccs — gespritzter — is where we get the term spritz, but the drink isn’t limited to this region.
There are many variations on the style across cultures. White wine and seltzer may be where it started, but let’s say you favor a sweeter drink, you may add a lemon-lime soda in place of sparkling water. There are non-alcoholic versions that include fruit juice — typically apple or orange juice — and seltzer. In England, the shandy is a blend of beer with lemon-lime soda. And in Italy, the Spritz Veneziano, also known as the Aperol Spritz, is king. The popularization of this cocktail in recent years has made the Aperol Spritz the go-to, the template for all other spritzes. It is a brunch staple.
When I was a kid, I had a particular distaste for seltzer. And, as with most children, I had a love for soda. I wasn’t picky, any soda would do. I loved the bubbles, and the prickly burn of an ice cold soda as I drank it at an alarming rate. Among my favorites were the darker ones, like Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper. There was so much complexity in the flavor — of course, this memory might be colored with a hefty dose of revisionism, but stick with me.
In young adulthood I gave up on drinking carbonated high fructose corn syrup, but I still wanted that crackly burn, so I gave seltzer another shot. As I began studying cocktails, bitters were an enlightening facet to my way of drinking. Campari and soda was introduced to me sometime in the mid 2000s by a friend’s roommate in Brooklyn. And there it was. The complexity I was seeking.
A few years back, I was in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, an international cocktail festival. By this time, I had already made myself and others an Aperol Spritz or two. It wasn’t the most random drink at the bars I had been working at — I mean, the recipe has been on the side of the bottle for as long as I can remember — but it wasn’t as common as it is today. New Orleans in July is hot and sticky. On my way out of a seminar, there was a pop-up Aperol Spritz booth. It was the first to-go cocktail I had ever received, and all at once, everything made sense.
Then the summer of 2018 hit. The Campari Group (owners of Aperol), launched a massive marketing campaign aimed at selling the Aperol Spritz to the American public. It worked. In the span of a summer, it seemed that everyone was aware of, and ordering, this bitter, orange aperitif. After that summer it was hard to navigate social media without seeing pictures of large wine glasses filled with ice and bubbly orange liquid. Sunshine and refreshing low-proof cocktails go together like peas and carrots. The recipe on the bottle suggests the following: 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, and 1 part soda water. Build in a wine glass with ice and toss in an orange slice. Although I make a modified version (see below), it gives a wonderful template for an array of variations. You can sub virtually any red bitter (Campari, St George Bruto Americano, Calisaya, etc.) for something wonderful.
When building your own spritz, the goal is a long, low-proof bubbly drink. You can start with any low-proof (typically below 20 percent alcohol) base: wine, fortified wine, amaro — the world is your oyster. If you’re using a wine base, try topping with seltzer. If you are using a non-wine base, try topping with sparkling wine. You can even add flavor modifiers like bitters, Chartreuse, or liqueurs. Acidity can also be added with a splash of fresh juice, or a citrus wedge. Follow the template and find what works for you.
And about that soda I used to love: see my recipe for the Alca-Cola Classic below for a flavor throwback.
As the weather gets warmer, and the promise of a normal day outside with friends seems both close at hand — and yet so far away — give yourself something refreshing that reminds you of days passed. It can be sweeter or drier, it can be bitter or less-intense, it can be complex or not, but it’s always bubbly and never not delicious. It is a scary time, but spritz season stops for no one.
The Aperol Spritz:
(Almost) Jim Meehan’s version of the classic
2 ounces Aperol
½ ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
2 ounces Prosecco or any sparkling wine
1 ounce sparkling water
Build in a rocks glass over ice cubes and gently stir to incorporate. Express the oil from an orange peel and garnish with the peel.
Syrus Fotovat, while in lockdown
1 ounce Meletti Amaro
1 ounce Bonal Gentian (bitter aperitif wine)
3 ounces sparkling water
2 dashes orange bitters
Build in a rocks glass over ice cubes and gently stir to incorporate. Express the oil from a lemon peel and garnish with the peel.