This week we’re looking at a drink that was pretty much unknown globally 15 years ago, but since then has gone on to be one of the most-ordered cocktails in the world. It’s the Aperol Spritz!
Some people really don’t like the Aperol Spritz. There was of course THAT article from 2019 in the New York Times telling you that that cocktail you liked was actually a “not a good drink”. You can dismiss it as clickbait, of course, very successful bait that everyone took and wrote their own rebuttals. Such is the internet. We were going to do one at the time but thought, what’s the point?
Why do people hate Aperol?
But even before that, people had their knives out for the poor old Aperol Spritz. Saying you were a fan of the orange stuff was not cool in drinks circles. Perhaps it’s something to do with Aperol being essentially Campari for people who don’t like Campari. And as Campari is the drink nerd’s drink of choice, anything that replaces it is going to be a bit naff. Or perhaps it’s because it tastes a bit like Kia Ora for grown-ups as if that could possibly be a bad thing. Then there’s the brand’s supremely irritating ungrammatical slogan – ‘together we joy.’ I mean, wot?
Of course, the general public don’t care. The Aperol Spritz is now one of the most-loved cocktails out there, few pubs don’t have it on the menu. Its lurid orange colour could have been specifically designed for Instagram. Aperol’s success has single-handedly revived the Spritz as a style of drink. Look at all the various Spritz cocktails we’ve had on the blog in recent years, and bottled drinks like the new Chandon Garden Spritz.
The amari family
What’s almost impossible to imagine now that the orange drink is everywhere is that 15 years ago nobody outside of Italy would have heard of it. It dates back to Padua in 1919 and was created by Luigi and Silvio Barbier. It’s part of the great family of bitter drinks known as amari such as Cynar, Campari, Select Aperitivo et al. Aperol is flavoured with gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona, and is significantly less alcoholic than its rivals weighing in at a mere 11% ABV. As with all these drinks, we suspect there’s been some recipe reformulation over the years.
Like its rivals, Aperol became the sort of thing drunk neat by old men with their coffees as well as being popular in Venice served as a Spritz. The Spritz apparently gets its name when the city, and much of northern Italy, was under Austrian rule in the 19th century. Soldiers would order local wines with a ‘spritz’ of fizzy water from a soda syphon.
The orange wave
In 2003, the brand was acquired by its much better-known rival Campari and the group started to put serious marketing budget behind the orange drink. I first tried it in the south of France in 2009. Our host gave it to us neat and warm as a digestive, and I thought it tasted revolting. The next time I tried was a few months later at the just-opened Polpo restaurant in Soho and I liked it much more mainly because it was drunk cold, diluted with fizzy water and Prosecco with some fat green olives on the side. The Aperol Spritz had landed!
Following my Aperol awakening in 2010, I started to see its trademark umbrellas everywhere. All over Britain and continental Europe, the orange wave crashed, like a sea of tipsy Dutch football supporters. It was always served the same way in enormous bubble wine glasses loaded with ice and topped up with Prosecco and fizzy water.
How to make an Aperol Spritz
There’s no getting away from the fact that Aperol is very sweet and unlike Campari, which has just as much sugar, the bitterness is mild. Despite being only 11% ABV, you need to pour carefully or you’ll get something that tastes like orange syrup. Aperol advises making it with a 3:2:1 ratio of Prosecco, Aperol and fizzy water. I think that makes it much too sweet. I recommend playing around with it to find out what suits you, and keep a bottle of fizzy water on the side to dilute it.
Seeing as this drink is more than half wine, it’s worth using a decent brand of brut or extra dry Prosecco. Sticky sweet stuff will be too much with Aperol. You could use a still wine rather than sparkling, in which case it’s called a Bicicletta. I also like to add some orange and/or grapefruit juice in place of wine to create a delicious low alcohol drink. You could even add a little Campari to bitter it up a bit. Finally, I think it tastes much nicer served in a small tumbler, just how Polpo used to do them back in 2010. There’s no better drink with anchovies in vinegar, olives, or any kind of salty titbit.
Pour the Aperol over ice in a tumbler, add the Prosecco, stir gently, top up with fizzy water and stir again. Garnish with an enormous green olive.