With today’s cocktail culture driving demand for fun, sessionable drinks, the time is right for innovation in the spritz category—those light, refreshing and approachable cocktails built on an endlessly adaptable base of sparkling wine and soda. The iconic Aperol spritz is the trendsetter here, and within Italy there are iterations of the popular apéritif that vary by region. Internationally, operators are taking the standard formula for a spritz and adding their unique personality and creativity to this popular, hot-weather-friendly beverage.
It’s hard to pinpoint its origin, but most agree the traditional spritz started as a combination of white wine and soda (now better known as a spritzer) during the period when Italy was part of the Austrian Empire. At some point, the humble spritzer developed into the now broadly enjoyed Aperol spritz. Both iterations exist today, but it’s important to understand the difference. A spritzer is generally a 1:1 ratio of wine and soda water or seltzer water. The Aperol spritz is, by contrast, a recognized cocktail with a standard formula that combines prosecco, Aperol and soda water. But formulas were meant to be tinkered with, and in this case, can result in a winning signature spritz. For many, the challenge lies in taking something so simple and making it unique without losing its basic appeal. Here are 10 ways to pull that off.
1 Bitter spirits
The standard spritz features Aperol, a spirit on the bitter side of the spectrum. By substituting other bitter spirits, the drink stays within its original profile, but mixes it up in both flavor and, potentially, color.
- Camproni Spritz: Campari, Barolo Chinato, sweet vermouth, prosecco
—312 Chicago, Chicago
- Spritz: Cappelletti, prosecco, orange bitters, grapefruit twist
—Baker and Co., New York
Creating a spritz using a bitter spirit beyond Aperol gives operators several interesting options. Italian red bitter spirits such as Campari, Cynar and Luxardo Bitter Liqueur maintain the typical profile and appearance. Other bitter liqueurs such as Pimm’s, Fernet-Branca and Picon can maintain the bitter experience but create unexpected visuals and new flavor profiles.
2 Sparkling Wines
Prosecco in a traditional spritz both mellows the bitterness and provides a pleasant effervescence. Given the breadth of bubbly options—not to mention other sparkling alcoholic mixers such as beers and ciders—bartenders are branching out beyond prosecco.
- Bestia Spritz: Aperol, pear cider, medium-dry sherry, mint sprig
—Bestia, Los Angeles
- Spritz Catalan: Ranci Seco wine, Campari, ginger, soda
—Chaval, Portland, Maine
Substituting other sparkling wines or different bubbly alcoholic beverages for the traditional prosecco allows a bartender to experiment with flavor without losing the expected fizzy experience of a spritz. Additionally, using alternatives may assist an operator in controlling costs, the sweetness of the flavor profile, and the resulting beverage color.
3 Seltzer/Soda Variations
Soda or seltzer water lengthens the spritz and lightens both the bitterness and sweetness. Other carbonated options can have a significant effect on flavor, ranging from sweet to savory.
- Spritz Vert: Grüner Veltliner, lemon verbena, elderflower, soda, lime
—Bar Boulud, Boston
- Kombucha Spritz: Gin, Aperol, lemon and ginger “kombrewcha”
—Root & Bone, New York
Housemade sodas continue to be trending, and leveraging these sodas in an alcoholic beverage simply increases their cachet. From health-conscious mineral waters to vegetable- or herb-forward sodas, this element of the spritz can have a profound impact on the final product and is perhaps the ingredient operators may play with the most.
4 Additional Spirits
While the traditional recipe calls for only one spirit (usually Aperol), there’s no reason a combination of spirits can’t be used to amp up the impact and lend a signature status.
- Opposite of a Problem: Cocchi Rosa, Krogstad aquavit, lemon juice, peach preserves, sparkling wine
—Nitecap, New York
- Diamond Spritz Fizz: Aperol, lemon juice, Dolin dry vermouth, honey syrup, Gran Classico Bitter, orange juice, egg white, sparkling wine
—Tosca Cafe, San Francisco
As long as the overall balance of the cocktail is maintained, multiple spirits can be used to create flavor profiles unique to an operation. These combinations can pull in spirits that are on-trend, reflective of the local culture, or from other countries. Bartenders can make their mark through deliberate blending. Adding other spirits may increase the alcohol content, giving a traditionally low-ABV beverage more of a kick.
As many bitter spirits are herbal in nature, fresh herbs can highlight or present interesting contrasts to the base flavors.
- Lemoncocco Spritz: Cappelletti Vino Aperitivo, Lemoncocco, prosecco, rosemary
—Ava Gene’s, Portland, Ore.
- Ginger Spritz: Prosecco, homemade ginger-lemongrass syrup, lime
—Zizi Limona, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Herbs not only allow a bartender to show off skill at the bar, but also leverage fresh and seasonal ingredients. The choice of herbs can help draw out herbal notes in any bitter spirits used. Herbs can also reflect the local market or time of year. Additionally, fresh garnishes can strengthen the perceived value and overall impact of the cocktail.
6 Infused Spirits
As with so many other categories on the menu, infused spirits are providing a showcase for the bar talent at any operation.
- Strawberry Spritz: Strawberry-infused grappa, Aperol, sparkling wine—Ambar Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
- Red Texas Spritz: Lemongrass- and blackberry-infused Aperol, raspberry beer, coconut sparkling water, blackberries, raspberries
—Compère Lapin, New Orleans
- Infusing spirits allows an operator to highlight the skill level of its bar staff as well as create a competitive point of differentiation. And while these convey bar skills, they are typically fairly easy to make in either large or small batches. Infused spirits can also optimize behind-the-bar preparation, reducing the need to handle or stock multiple ingredients to create the same flavor profile per cocktail.
7 Bitter Replacements
Bitter tends to be the traditional flavor profile of the traditional Aperol spritz, but there’s no reason why the adventurous or creative bartender can’t step beyond bitter to embrace a host of other flavors.
- P and P Spritz: Belvedere Pink Grapefruit Vodka, Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, sparkling wine, splash of club soda, fresh lemon juice
—Al Biernat’s, Dallas
- Tequila Spritz: Tequila blanco, cava, passionfruit, soda
—The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, Houston
While Americans appreciate bitter flavor profiles more now than ever before, bitter can still be off-putting to some consumers. Creating spritzes that run the gamut from sweet to sour, or savory to herbal, allows operators to expand the access and appeal of their spritz program.
If you’re going to blow up the original recipe, go all the way. Adding fresh produce, juice or even jams may throw tradition to the wind, but it can create a new experience appropriate for any season.
- Ete Spritz: Aperol, melon, orange bitters, sparkling wine
—Brasserie Ten Ten, Boulder, Colo.
- Red Berry Spritz: Fresh muddled limes, Ciroc Red Berry Vodka, topped with Sprite
—Cantina Italiana, Boston
Nothing speaks to the seasonality of a menu item like produce. Leveraging seasonal produce and its juices not only allows a bartender to create spritzes that capture the season, but also helps use produce brought in for other menu items. Spritzes, therefore, can reflect other menu changes and complement seasonal offerings while broadening the potential appeal of the drink well beyond summer months.
9 Spices, Salts, Peppers
Considering the generally herbal and potentially floral notes in a spritz, spices can be used to ground the flavors and create both depth and heft to an otherwise light cocktail.
- Salty Spritz: Vodka, St-Germain, apricot, salty-rinse white wine
—Pig Bleecker, New York
- Winter Spritz: Barolo Chinato, tonic syrup, allspice dram, club soda, cava
—Damn the Weather, Seattle
Most bars are stocking spices for other cocktails, so there’s no reason to let them rest unused when developing alternative spritz options. From common spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg to those growing in popularity like cardamom and turmeric, spices not only increase the flavor complexity, but can have a significant impact on the visual appeal.
While many consumers may look for alcoholic spritz variations, others are seeking adult nonalcoholic options that create the look and experience of the original without the buzz.
- Cranberry Orange Spritz: Cranberry, orange, San Pellegrino Aranciata
—Romano’s Macaroni Grill, based in Denver
- Meadow Mocktail: Basil, lavender syrup, lemon juice, fresh grapefruit juice, Angostura bitters, chilled sparkling water
—Vena’s Fizz House, Portland, Maine
A nonalcoholic spritz should seek to recreate the experience of its alcoholic version; the goal should be a light, effervescent beverage that tends toward a more bitter or herbal profile rather than something sweeter. Stray too far to the sweet side of the spectrum and it will be difficult to discern the difference between an adult nonalcoholic spritz and a soda.