The Aperol spritz is everywhere this summer. It is a perfect summertime drink. It’s light and refreshing, and more importantly it is low in alcohol, making it a great drink to have at brunch that won’t make you feel like you need to take a nap.
In Italian culture the aperitivo hour is an important part of the day. It’s a time bookended between work and dinner where people gather at bars to enjoy a leisurely snack, a glass of wine and maybe a spritz or two. The word aperitivo refers to a drink low in alcohol taken before a meal to stimulate one’s appetite.
While I have never seen any snacks other than potato chips at The Chicken Box, this summer they are offering an Aperol spritz on draft. I can’t quite tell if that is a sign of the apocalypse or a sign that the much-loved Italian tradition has begun to seep into mainstream American life.
Aperol is a little too sweet for me so I tend to opt for Campari when I have a spritz. That is until recently, when a friend introduced me to the Cynar spritz. Say it with me, chee-NAR. Cynar is a bittersweet liqueur that is made in a similar style, but is brown as opposed to the vibrant orange and red seen in Aperol and Campari and utilizes artichokes as a main ingredient.
Aperol, along with Campari and Cynar, are all part of the aperitivo family. Each liqueur is typically gentian-root based and distilled with a mix of herbs unique to where they are made. The bitterness from the gentian root is what spurs digestion. Each of these Italian bitters works well in cocktails, spritzes or even on their own in small servings.
When I say spritz I don’t mean the white-wine spritzers that were popular in the 1980s. If you are making the drink with the liqueur and seltzer water you are doing it wrong. Second to the liqueur itself, the most important ingredient is prosecco. There’s no need to splurge on expensive prosecco. Even though cheaper prosecco tends to have that sweet, almost bubblegum taste, the bitterness from the aperitivo balances the flavor profile.
The drink couldn’t be easier to make. You will need an orange, prosecco, your aperitivo of choice and a splash of club soda. Fill a large wine glass with ice. Add two ounces of liqueur, add prosecco and top with just a splash of club soda. Garnish your drink with an expressed orange peel.
Expressing the orange peel is an important part of the drink. Most times you will see this step replaced with a slice of orange, but in doing that you don’t really get the flavors from the orange oil.
To accomplish this take a peeler and remove a strip of orange rind. Next hold the rind above the cocktail with your forefinger and thumb with the skin side facing the drink and squeeze. This step releases the orange oil from the rind onto the top of your drink. Slide the expressed orange peel into your drink and enjoy.