Looks like spring has finally arrived in rainy Vancouver, and bars are finishing working on their new seasonal menus. To make things easier, Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau‘s latest book, has just been released and will surely inspire bartenders with a few light and refreshing options.
There’s no question the Aperol Spritz has become a modern classic. Baiocchi, author of the James Beard-nominated Sherry, and Punch founder and editor-in-chief. Pariseau, co-founder and former deputy editor of Punch, and contributor for GQ, Esquire and Saveur. They point out that spritzes now account for the majority of Aperol’s sales worldwide. Playing a big part in this success is the fact the Spritz is a most romantic drink. The low-proof cooler’s bright summery colour begs drinkers to sip it on a patio while the sun is still up. Ordering one enables patrons to drop a not-quite-mainstream Italian liqueur and get a glass of Champagne all at once. Yet to Italians, it’d be sacrilegious to cut spritzes to one simple drink turned into a modern fad.
La Dolce Vita, the bitter way
We can throw many parallels between our North American happy hour and the Italian aperitivo hour, but where many see happy hour as a way to get the night started early, the aperitivo is an essential part of the Italian working day. A transition between work and family life where you get to wind down and socialize before your head home. Finger food is an integral part and the bittersweet drinks served are generally low in alcohol and showcase medicinal herbal liqueurs and wines meant to aid digestion rather than intoxicate. While the light afternoon meal is customary in many countries like Spain and Latin America who have la merienda or la once. The former British Empire had ‘afternoon tea’, l’aperitivo is unique for the symbiosis between small dishes and bitter cocktails. The best example being the Venetian Spritz, garnished with both an orange wheel and an olive. Fruity and savoury, bitter and sweet. Another part of the aperitivo picture is the routine Italians wouldn’t want to mess with: flocking to their usual caffè to order the same stuff and expect to meet the same people daily.
This whole ritual fascinated Baiocchi and Pariseau.
“How, we wondered, did everyone simultaneously agree to do this everyday? To meet at the same place and drink the same drink, at the same time, like loyal employees clocking in just to hang out?”
They both set out to find answers the hard way. They headed straight to Northern Italy to do their fieldwork and get up close and personal with their subject. Driving down what they dubbed the ‘Spritz Trail‘ from Turin to Trieste. They uncovered the drink’s origin and evolution from the 1800’s when the Austrian Empire extended all the way to Venice and Trieste. Occupying Austrians took up mixing them with soda water.
We can thank Italy’s strong bitter wine transformation into the Spritz we know today, thanks to the surge of Italian bitters in the early 1900’s. The explosion of prosecco after the formerly still wine turned into a bubbly certainly helped the surge.
Along their journey, they realized the aperitivo hour became so ingrained in Italian culture as the country re-defined itself in the wake of WWII and the Miracolo Economico.
This book is a great read, with light informative tidbits thrown around without getting too scholastic. You’ll find info on different types of vermouth and amari and a breakdown of what type of prosecco works best. An interesting comparative also details the northern Italian cities and their spritz variations. Matthew Allen is behind the book’s gorgeous retro Art-Deco illustrations, a warm throwback to Italy’s gilded age of advertising. Photographers Dylan + Jeni did a fantastic job at capturing high-contrast, colourful shots consistent with Allen’s work.
Spritz also has a strong roster of modern recipes from the likes of Michael McIlroy, Jim Meehan, Martin Cate, Leo Robitschek and Alex Day, among others, on top of a bunch of classics like the Bicicletta, Hugo, the Aperol Betty, the Tinto de Verano and the Sgroppino.
Home bartenders will also find a handful of recipes for DIY syrups often called for in spritz recipes, and because it is impossible to write a book on the Spritz without mentioning cicchetti and snacks, foodies will be pleased to find a couple dozen appetizer recipes curated by restaurants such as Polpo (London) and Terroni (Toronto and LA)
Spritz is a beautiful book that will hopefully convince bartenders to re-think their happy hour menu into showcasing more low-proof drinks and accompanying nibbles. It’s also a great reminder that the Aperol Spritz is only one drink in a vast family of coolers that deserve to be explored.
Baiocchi and Pariseau compiled dozens of recipes for their book, ranging from the classic spritzes to some modern interpretations. In Martin Cate’s Mai-Tai Spritz, from Smuggler’s Cove, the Trader Vic’s classic trades its Hawaiian shirt for a tailored Zegna suit: just a little less rum. Offset by a lot of Champagne.
Food pairing? Anything, really: if you want your day to last past the aperitivo hour, you won’t try to tackle this boozy one with an empty stomach!
1 oz Plantation XO Rum
½ oz house made orgeat
½ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao
½ oz fresh lime juice
4 oz chilled Brut Champagne
Combine the first four ingredients and refrigerate for an hour or two. Pour the chilled mixture into a Collins glass, fill to the rim with ice, top with Champagne and garnish with a mint sprig and a lime wheel. (If you can’t wait, stir)