It originated in the middle of the 19th century, at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is believed that some Austrians found Italian wines too heavy, so they would ask the bartender for a “spritzen” (splash) of sparkling water to dilute them. It became the first spritz recipe.
The bitters came later. The sweeter tasting Aperol orange was created in 1919 in Padua, Italy. The dark red bitter digestif Select followed in 1920, from the Castello district of Venice. These liqueurs were made with a combination of plants.
The Italian Campari aperitif has long been a popular ingredient in the Negroni cocktail, but it is also gaining popularity as a spritz.
Rudi Carraro, Select brand ambassador, explains that Venice was at the heart of the Italian spice trade, so “it was easy for them to source spices, herbs and botanicals from all over the world, to create their perfect recipe that didn’t still today ‘t been changed.
Describing the flavor of Select, Carraro says, “In the beginning you have these really nice citrus aromatic notes that come from the oranges and a hint of cardamom. Added to this is the rhubarb rhizome which he says gives a “grassy, deep and earthy” taste that “keeps coming back.” Finally, you have mugwort, commonly known as wormwood, which “makes the finish long and bitter in the back of your throat.”
Originally, aperitifs were drunk on their own, “perhaps with a little ice or soda, to have a bit of length,” says Carraro. It wasn’t until the 1950s that these Italian liqueurs were used as a cocktail ingredient and added to the spritz, although “just a splash at first”.
In the 1970s, prosecco frequently replaced white wine, making the modern spritz more bubbly and appealing to a younger generation, Carraro says.
But it wasn’t until the 2000s that the spritz went from Venetian aperitif to global phenomenon.
Sales of aperitif spirits increased in volume worldwide by 26% in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. The top five markets for aperitifs are Italy, France, Germany, Brazil and Argentina. Over the past five years, the global volume of aperitifs has grown steadily, with Italy, France, Germany, Brazil and Argentina being the top five markets.
The spritz is a factor in this increase. Linda Passarella, director of global aperitifs at Campari Group, which also owns Aperol, says the spritz is low in alcohol “in line with the emerging trend” of low-alcohol drinks.
Consumer tastes are also changing; While Italians are accustomed to bitter flavors from an early age, the rest of the world now knows more about Italian appetizers and experiments with these flavors more.
“We start drinking coffee at grandma’s house when we are very young,” says Italian-born Carraro, adding that even the soft drinks Italian children drink are bitter.
Luca Boso, manager of the Terrazza Aperol bar in Venice, says Aperol tastes like gentian, vanilla, flowers, “plus a lot of orange”.
Aperol’s strongest growth is still in Europe, but Passarella says his group is looking to expand in the United States and also in Asia.
She sees the Aperol spritz as the entry point into the aperitif journey. “It’s a well-balanced, bittersweet taste profile, so it’s very accessible in terms of taste,” she says.
“When consumers want a more refined experience, a more bitter taste, they try the Campari spritz. The Campari spritz is more sophisticated, offering a more complex taste profile.
Whichever bitter you choose, the modern recipe is simple: 3 parts prosecco, 2 parts bitters, a little club soda, and lots of ice, topped off with an olive or a slice of orange.
Carraro encourages experimentation.
“What I love about the spritz recipe is that it’s really up to you, however you like it,” he says. “I like mine with a little more Select because that makes it a little more bitter. If you want to have more soda to make it lighter or more ice, less ice, it’s up to you. .
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