Cocktails

The State of the Spritz

July 20, 2020

Story: Punch Staff

Photo: Dylan + Jeni

Cocktails

The State of the Spritz

July 20, 2020

Story: Punch Staff

Art: Dylan + Jeni

Checking in on the bitter, bubbly Italian icon.

Remember when the spritz was just some drink you had on vacation in Italy? A fun little thing you ordered when in Rome? That spritz was not yet the subject of a viral New York Times story, or a global symbol of la dolce vita. It was not a careening juggernaut that liquor brands vied to lasso in hopes of being swept into its multimillion-dollar undertow. It was not a cocktail canned, bottled, frozen and merchandised. That drink was just a spritz—not yet a Spritz™. 

When we began work on Spritz, in 2014, we wanted to explore the drink’s role and history as a symbol of aperitivo culture and Italian identity. By this point, the Aperol Spritz was midway through its march toward European ubiquity. It was Aperol, the bittersweet liqueur from Padua, after all, that took a hyper-regional aperitivo ritual—a way to spike your wine, really—and codified it into a modern-classic cocktail, complete with a prescribed recipe. But even this version was not yet Spritz™. (Funny to think that when a prominent sommelier at the time found out that we were writing a book about the spritz, he laughed at the concept. “Sounds like an article,” he said.)

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Stateside, the drink was becoming an increasingly common sight on craft cocktail menus, but almost never as a fixed recipe. Here, the spritz arrived as an idea—a bitter, bubbly, low-alcohol invitation to the drinker or its maker to fill in the rest. The spritz, ever easygoing, was game to adapt to whatever we wanted it to be. Perhaps that is why we find ourselves today at a moment where the cocktail is as hard to define as it is easy to drink. There is a spritz for every season or occasion, every liqueur or bubbly wine

People often ask us, What’s next for the spritz? Will it be cast aside for the next big thing, or sent to its room to think about what it has done, like the Cosmo? (Fair question when you consider that the Cosmo is the only other modern drink to gain spritz-level pop-cultural fame.) Will it move beyond its adolescence—its current phase of trying on looks and testing boundaries—and settle into a more fixed identity? Or will the spritz keep evolving, scooting around from country to country, bar to bar—too irreverent, too busy not being busy, to get a real job?

We like to think of the spritz as for these times—a loose idea, unencumbered by rules or ratios, that can roll with whatever mood or state of mind you and yours might find yourselves in. It’s worth bearing in mind that the drink was conceived along a border that was not yet fixed, born into a country that was young and ununited. At that point, it didn’t have a name or a world-famous liqueur to ground its identity. And even today, as it simultaneously exists as a standardized recipe and a philosophical concept, perhaps it can be of comfort that this joyful cocktail of bygone vacations is as ever-evolving and unsettled as the world around it. —Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau

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Doppio Spritz

Two types of Italian aperitivo are the key to this winning recipe.

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Garibaldi Spritz

The two-ingredient original gets a spritz makeover.

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Basil Spritz

Basil leaves give this spritz a fresh, herbal kick.