Master Class: The Art Of The Spritz
You've nailed the Aperol spritz. Time to level up.
The spritz – while always popular – has become a go-to summer libation, thanks in part to aggressive marketing by Aperol. At its core, the spritz is simply white or sparkling wine, carbonated water and a bitter liqueur mixed together in equal-ish parts, served with plenty of ice and a garnish.
The bitter orange profile and bright, summery hue of Aperol is a classic, but spritz are now a standalone class of cocktail. Fresh and light, they make the perfect apertif. We ask some of the best spritz-specialist bartenders for their tips.
While Venice likes to lay claim to the origins of the beverage, legend has it that it was in fact Hapsburg soldiers from the Austrian Empire who conjured up the delicious drink, during their rule of Italy’s Veneto region in the 1800s. Finding the local wine too strong and alcoholic for their tastes, they’d tone down their drinks with a squirt of sparkling water (a ‘spritzen’ in their vernacular) and a star was born.
The Venetians jumped on the trend, injected a bit of character with the added element of a liqueur or bitter, like Select (which was typical of Venice) and gave the world the Venetian Spritz. The drink has enjoyed an effervescent rise ever since.
A modern twist
“The spritz is one of the most refreshing styles of drinks: sparkling, lower alcohol and full of flavour,” says Luke Ashton, co-owner of This Must Be The Place – a dedicated spritz bar in Darlinghurst. Ashton, the Australian winner of the 2013 Diageo World Class bartending title, says he enjoys the versatility and the unique style that spritzes offer.
“[I think they’re] extremely conducive to the Australian weather – and lifestyle – and as more and more people become health conscious and look to lower the alcohol content in their drinks, a spritz is a great choice because you’re still getting something unique and refreshing. The ABV is the same as for a glass of wine, and it’s fairly sparkling from first sip to the last.”
He says he and business partner Charlie Ainsbury “use creative licence with what a spritz can be” at their small and lively bar on Oxford St and celebrate infusions of Australian ingredients to create surprising and beautiful flavours.
Aperol’s heir apparents
Just down the road, in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, is another venue that specialises in the art of the spritz. Neil Perry’s Rosetta – a sophisticated Italian restaurant with an “Amalfi Coast inspired palette” – boasts a 20 spritz menu, some of which explore a range of local ingredients such as Red Okar from the Adelaide Hills.
The man behind Rosetta’s drinks (and some of the restaurant’s famous spritz creations) – national bar manager Ryan Gavin – says while Aperol’s association with the drink has helped boost the category as a whole, people need to branch out and be explorative with their spritz choices.
“[Obviously] the most popular is the Aperol Spritz,” says Gavin, “There has been a huge marketing blitz behind it, which has catapulted it into the spotlight. However the variety really is limitless. It’s not exactly a definitive category that has a lot of rules, so it encourages creativity and exploration of a wide range of ingredients.
“Versatility comes from swapping out particular elements and trying new things, for example, you can replace the Prosecco with tonic, or cider, or sparkling water. You can even experiment with products like Seedlip, the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit, as an alternative for the liqueurs.”
He, like Ashton, says the “trending nature of low alcohol cocktails”, which there is a healthier buzz about at the moment is another reason for its ascension to top of the summer drinks list.
“It’s the quintessential taste of summer. The spritz is a great way to utilise multiple ingredients and flavour options. The spectrum of spritzes really is endless if you have a creative mixologist, so you can create many modern riffs that appeal to different tastes and styles of cocktail drinkers, which has kept the popularity of the spritz alight.”
If the drink spritz
More and more bars and bartenders are spurning the classic Aperol-style ingredients and are instead choosing to spritz it up with Vermouths and alike.
“We use incredible Italian spirits and liqueurs – a favourite of mine being Varnelli Punch alla Fiamma ‘Mandorino’, with stunning mandarin flavours,” says Gavin. “Spritzes on tap, such as Rosetta’s Draft Bicicletta, are also becoming increasingly popular. As they’re batch-made, you can really manage quality and consistency. Commercial Australian spritz products are also starting to surface.”
Campari is becoming a popular substitute for Aperol, as is Cynar – an artichoke-infused variety of amaro. Even the likes of St-Germain, Crème de cassis and Cointreau are being used as a base for spritzes.
Ashton agrees and says the spritz is “more than just a cocktail – it’s a style of drinking”.
“Most bars these days will have one or two spritzes on their menus, because you’re a little bit unburdened by the ingredients you can use. As long as there is carbonation and dilution, you can make a spritz.”
“Vermouths are becoming more popular for spritzes because of the availability of quality and the versatility of dry and Bianco Vermouths. You can even use a dry red Vermouth – Rosato-style – which is a really delicious product.”
Vermouth brand Regal Rogue recently released Lively White, a “quaffing vermouth”, designed specifically for spritz-making or to have on the rocks. Belvedere Vodka is embracing the trend, too, releasing a health-focused array of light vodka recipes.
The best part of the trend, according to Ashton, is how easy it is to recreate at home.
“At home, you can replicate the classic Aperol spritz style easily – you just need an aperitif base and some sparkling. But Sodastream might be bringing out a product – a home carbonation system – that can use liquids other than just water. People can then be quite inventive with what they use.”
More than anything, he believes that the humble spritz isn’t going anywhere and will continue on its stratospheric rise.
“Most importantly – I think there will be less consideration to the gender bias. Currently spritzes are probably seen as more of a feminine drink but that’s slowly changing. It takes a real man to pick up a spritz and enjoy it.”
Other than the aforementioned This Must Be The Place and Rosetta, Sydney has a host of venues offering some summer spritz action from Casoni to the Continental Deli, The Dolphin Hotel to Leichhardt’s aptly named Aperitivo.
Published 21 December, 2017