When Natasha David opened her New York City bar Nitecap, in 2014, she knew she wanted to incorporate a designated spritz section into the menu.
“I very selfishly really love spritzes,” she says. “I wanted to introduce more people to it and have it be something people drink.”
Mission accomplished: The Aperol Spritz, a simple combination of Prosecco, Aperol and a splash of soda that is already an outright phenomenon in Italy has now become a staple on U.S. drink menus as well.
“I see it all over the world. It’s a drink that people know and identify with,” says Naren Young of New York’s aperitivo-focused Dante. “The Aperol Spritz is no longer a niche drink that you [have] on vacation.”
Unsurprisingly, bartenders are also building their own new spins, and plenty of them. In addition to David’s menu, which changes up its spritz offerings twice a year, Dante will roll out a full menu dedicated to the Aperol Spritz this summer. The wide-ranging variations are bottled or re-imagined as savory drinks, or play up classic flavors found in Aperol by front-loading on grapefruit or orange (see Young’s recipe for the Oranges Etc.). Meanwhile, the iconic mix of Prosecco, Aperol and soda water is featured on draft and garnished with an almond-stuffed olive.
What is it about the Aperol Spritz that has inspired so many variations? It surely has something to do with the versatility of the drink’s format—bitter, bubbly, low-alcohol—and the leisure culture it embodies.
“You know a drink has become successful when people come to your bar and call for it—I’ll have a Vodka Tonic, I’ll have an Aperol Spritz,” David notes.
Another reason Americans have recently taken to riffing on the Aperol Spritz is because it fits neatly at the intersection of several trends: the continuing embrace of bitter liqueurs and the culture of aperitivo, along with the enthusiasm for lower-alcohol cocktails and what is often referred to as “session drinking.”
“Day-drinking that doesn’t… make you fall over,” is how David explains the “session” concept—a light drink to enjoy in the afternoon or early evening, with an emphasis on socializing, not quick inebriation. “Not to sound snooty,” she continues, “but Europeans have been doing it right for a while.”
The Aperol Spritz + Five Riffs
How to Riff on the Spritz
The classic Aperol Spritz calls for a three-two-one formula (three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol and one part soda water) built over ice and garnished with a slice of orange. But that leaves a lot of room for experimentation.
Many bartenders tinker with proportions and add other ingredients to the mix. Some add fresh citrus (see: Richard Boccato’s Don Gorgon or David’s Summer Fling); others turn to infusions, such as the lemongrass- and blackberry-infused Aperol that forms the base of Abigail Gullo’s Red Texas Spritz. Still others add punch with various spirits: “I think we’ve tried every single base spirit at this point,” says David. Her current menu includes an aquavit-spiked spritz, as well as a brandy-and-absinthe variation.
But it’s the effervescent portion of the drink that is most often the subject of bartender tinkering. In fact, Young, in building his all-spritz menu, said his first consideration was to look at different sparkling components “because that’s what makes a spritz a spritz.”
Beyond Prosecco and soda water, he’s tried out kombucha, lambrusco, housemade sodas, tonic waters, various sparkling wines and ciders—including a pineapple cider from Texas—all in the name of adding an alternative bubbly lift.
Some bartenders even suggest reverse-engineering the drink. “Try an ounce of Aperol in your next sour beer,” says Amor y Amargo’s Sother Teague, if you want to see how the Italian bitter plays with carbonation.
Back at Dante, the soon-to-roll-out list will also include a bottled spritz, a vegetal riff with celery juice, Salers and cucumber soda and a large-format version served in a pitcher.
No wonder Young has dubbed 2017 “The Summer of Spritz.”