By now, you and everyone from the Italian Riviera to your favorite suburban bar is familiar with the Aperol Spritz. It’s the perennial drink of the summer for a reason. But the sparkling cocktail has long overshadowed its winter cousin, hot Aperol. Together, the two make the case for keeping the aperitivo liqueur as a year-round backbar staple.
At the Christmas markets of Vienna, Austria, most visitors seek out commemorative mugs of sticky-sweet glühwein, also known as mulled wine, and punsch, a mix of tea, spices and rum or brandy. But on a recent visit, a market stall sign for a bright orange drink caught my eye. I watched as a vendor poured steaming liquid into a wide-mouthed wine goblet, the signature Aperol Spritz glass, on loan for a small fee to be returned when I finished.
While the classic Aperol Spritz relies on its namesake aperitivo liqueur, prosecco and soda water, the hot version substitutes white wine for the bubbles. Fruit juices, either apple or orange, and optional mulling spices like orange peel, cinnamon and clove offer even more depth of flavor. The hot Aperol has all of the satisfaction of its refreshing summer counterpart, with all of the warming effects crucial to this time of year. And unlike the market’s other seasonal offerings, hot Aperol is much more nuanced in flavor, with the familiar hit of orange that I love about the spritz, without the lingering sugary sensation of glühwein or punsch.
Though it’s most commonly found during the holiday season in Christmas markets, especially in Austria and Germany, bars and cafés across Europe also make the winter spritz alternative. The drink has risen in popularity in recent years, particularly as the spritz itself has catapulted to worldwide prominence.
Naturally, each hot Aperol recipe varies depending on the place and the bartender. At markets across Europe, other twists abound, like the Hot Pinky, which swaps out white wine for rosé and adds floral rose syrup, and the Hot Kiss, which is topped with whipped cream in a more dessert-like preparation. At Café Katzung in Innsbruck, Austria, which starts serving its version each October, owners Ursula and Jakob Dengg opt for dry white wine, with just a dash of orange juice, and no apple juice, for a less-sweet take on the staple. And Jessica King, co-owner of Brother Wolf in Knoxville, Tennessee, makes a version inspired by the holiday—and cold and flu—season, incorporating vitamin C powder, single malt Scotch and Chinotto soda to the mix.
Indeed, like the spritz, the format is a flexible one, with the same easy-to-drink and craveable quality of the original. As King says of her medicinal-inspired cocktail, it’s worthy of “a daily dose” each winter.