The recipe and accompanying story comes from Around the World in 80 Cocktails, a book by bartender and writer Chad Parkhill which blends history, travel and drinking in what is described as “a whirlwind tour of the places that have shaped the history of the cocktail, from its birth to the present day”.
The Spritz Veneziano – a fizzy, wine-based drink that appears lurid red or orange – seems like the least butch drink in the world, but it comes with a surprisingly military backstory. After Napoleon’s first defeat and exile to Elba in 1814, Europe’s powers met in Paris and re-drew the continent’s borders; as part of this treaty, the Austrian royal house of Habsburg-Lorraine asserted their claim over the Venetian Republic, and sent in their military to make sure the locals knew who was running the show.
Enter the spritzer. Venetian lore has it that the occupying soldiers found the local white wines too robust by comparison to the rieslings and gruner veltliners that they were accustomed to. Their ingenious solution was to add a spritz (spray) of water to soften the blow. When the soda syphon became commonplace towards the end of the 19th century (long after the Austrians had relinquished their claim), that splash of water was often carbonated. But the real innovation came in the 1920s, when Venetian bartenders started to add Italy’s own aperitivo bitters to the mixture.
Exactly what kind of aperitivo bitters was first included remains contentious, but there is no doubt about which brand of aperitivo bitters dominates the Spritz as we know it today: Aperol, a brand born in Padova, not far from Venice, in 1919.
A Spritz made with Aperol is bubbly, faintly bittersweet and decidedly moreish. Other versions of the Spritz take on the character of their aperitivo: the Campari Spritz is robustly bitter, the Cynar Spritz is smoky and brooding, and the Select Spritz is light and elegant.
Two last refinements in the 1990s give us the Spritz Veneziano we know today – the use of a sparkling Prosecco rather than still wine for extra fizz, and the addition of ice to keep things cool during long summer days of drinking on the beach of Venice’s Lido di Jesolo. Cin cin (cheers)!
60ml aperitivo bitter of your choice (such as Aperol, Select, or Campari)
90ml prosecco or other dry sparkling wine, chilled
30ml sparkling water
Orange wedge, to garnish
Green olives, to garnish
Build ingredients in an Old Fashioned or wine glass. Add ice gently. Garnish with a wedge of orange, and green olives on a skewer.
Bartender’s tip: If you are feeling particularly brave or retro, replace the prosecco with a Venetian pinot grigio or a richer, rounder soave.
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