Ten years ago, the United Kingdom was largely unaware of the Spritz and its bittersweet charms. The Negroni was gaining popularity in our bars, a European import that dovetailed nicely with a general levelling-up of our national cocktail programme. But most of the Aperol in these parts was gathering dust in last generation’s Italian restaurants. This all changed when some canny marketing spend by Aperol’s owner, the drinks titan Gruppo Campari, put bright orange deckchairs and branded glassware in cities up-and-down the country. In just a few years, we became a nation of Spritz drinkers – captivated by the light, appetite stimulating, low-ABV afternooner to such an extent that it’s come to overshadow homegrown favourites like Pimm’s.
What do I need to make one?
The basic formula for a spritz is easy:
50ml Bitter liqueur
25ml Soda water
Pour your bitter into a glass filled with ice, a large wine glass is commonly used but a generously sized tumbler will work just as well. Don’t be tempted to skimp on the ice as your drink will just wind up flat and lukewarm – the very opposite of a Spritz. Gently pour your prosecco to make sure you don’t break the bubbles and give it a gentle stir with a barspoon – or a teaspoon if that’s what’s to hand. Any prosecco will do, but as wines go they do skew fairly sweet, so one described as ‘extra dry’ or ‘brut’ will usually work best.
Next, top with soda water. The kind that comes in small cans or bottles is preferable as you can guarantee it’ll be nice and lively when you come to pour. The proportions of prosecco and soda can be judged by eye. Measuring out fizzy ingredients is way too fussy to bother with and will just knock the sparkle out of them anyway.
Once you’re done, garnish with a wedge of citrus fruit – orange or grapefruit are the classics – and a green olive if you like. Drinks like this are designed to be taken with snacks while you watch the afternoon turn into evening, so the salty olive really brings things together.
What about the bitters?
The proliferation of Aperol has led to the widespread belief that the name of the cocktail is the Aperol Spritz, when in fact what you’re dealing with there is a Spritz made with Aperol. There’s a whole world of bitter liqueurs and aromatised wines that work in this serve that’s well worth exploring.
Bitters are ubiquitous over much of Europe. These herbal infusions vary regionally, acting as vectors for the fauna and culture of the places they’re made. You’ll find them in France, Germany, Hungary and Scandinavia, but nowhere are they more concentrated than Italy. Bitters have been taken there for centuries as curatives and general mood elevators, sometimes in short measures and sometimes with a little wine to help them go down.
The Aperol spritz is a fine thing – highlighter orange and not too bitter, it makes a good introduction to the world of aperitif. That said, it’s a little on the sweet side and can get cloying after a while. A nice option if you’re seeking something drier is Aperol’s big brother, Campari (£16 – Sainsbury’s) . A Spritz made to the same specs given above will be darker in colour and a touch more balanced, making for a refreshing sundowner that’s great company for a few early-evening bites. Another great option is Tempus Fugit Gran Classico (£28.95 – The Whisky Exchange) from Switzerland, which makes a seriously grown-up drink with deep earthiness and fresh alpine herbs on the palate.
Mia Johansson, co-founder of Bar Swift – which operates in Soho and Shoreditch – recommends getting creative and reaching for vermouth in place of the traditional bitters. ‘An Aperol spritz never fails in our house, it's a classic after all. But I love working with vermouths in general for Spritzes and adding a dash of orange bitters to enhance the bitter herbs in the vermouth. Pick of the crop for me would be a Noilly Prat dry, or any Amber vermouth as well.’ The French classic Noilly Prat (£12 – Waitrose) makes a brilliantly dry spritz that will set you up perfectly for dinner. As ever, keep your vermouth in the fridge after opening, it is wine and it does go bad. When it comes to orange bitters, the version made by German firm the Bitter Truth (£14.75 – TWE) is the benchmark and absolutely deserves a place in your cocktail cabinet.
Londinio Rosé Vermouth (£18.95 – Master of Malt) also works an absolute charm in a Spritz, bringing little hints of red apple and dried berries to the party. It’s made in West London, using English wine so what you’ve got here is a nice way to support small British business while you get your drink on.
Like all great drinks, the Spritz is more of a template than a hard and fast recipe. ‘Creating a Spritz is delightfully easy and fun, you need a bit of sweetness, a bit of bite and a lot of fizz and ice,’ says Mia. ‘When you understand these parts, you can change them according to your own favourite flavour combos. A classic Spritz wouldn't have fresh juice in it, it is there to whet your palate and fresh citrus can have the opposite effect. But feel free to use slices of citrus fruit for aroma and visual effect. We have a Solstice Spritz at Swift which is a returning menu favourite, beautifully balanced with Martini Bitter, Blood Orange Vermouth, Passionfruit syrup and Prosecco. Delish!’
One of the advantages of cocktails like this is that they offer a forgiving formula that rewards experimentation. If you want a drink with a little more kick as the evening wears on, add half-a-measure of gin. If your Spritz is coming out a little sweet, try a dash of dry fino Sherry to balance things out. Do as Mia suggests and play around with a jigger of fruit syrup or different combinations of vermouth and bitter. The combinations are endless and you can always drink your mistakes. Salute!