Given how old Italy is you’d think they’d have pretty set in stone nominations for all sorts of National things and an aperitif is very important to their culture. So, how did a semi-modern drink like Aperol win the spotlight? One thing we know for sure is that it’s partly thanks to the Veneto region, around 300,000 of wine-based Aperol cocktails are consumed there on the daily, according to Campari.
For about 6 months now I have been ordering Aperol Spritz everywhere I go and recording the best ones to tell this love story. So without further ado let’s dive in.
For such a national honor, Aperol Spritz is a simple cocktail with a 3-2-1 mix of prosecco, Aperol, and a splash of soda water, and voila Italy’s most popular mixer. It is low in alcohol, it tastes like the perfect citrus yet only slightly bitter, it is quite literally the definition of “light and refreshing” thanks to the combination of bitter oranges, rhubarb, and gentian root. There are other components but are considered a trade secret.
While it is simple we want you to get the best results, so keep these key aspects in mind. The ice should be large cubes, never use crushed ice, the drink has a slow dilution and the ice is essential. As for the Prosecco, we recommend a dry Prosecco to balance out the acidity, which prepares your growing appetite and cleanses the palate as an aperitif should.
Aperol Spritz is so official it is on the IBA (International Bartenders Association) lists, it is considered a worldwide success and today 81% of consumers are people as young as 18 and as old as 44.
The Aperol Spritz is an icon, but it has many variations depending on where you drink it. In Venice, your Aperol Spritz will probably include dry white wine instead of sparkling Prosecco. As for the garnish, sometimes an olive is added to the orange slice.
While reading this if you thought, “I have been seeing a lot of Aperol lately. I wonder why!” You’re not crazy! If you’ve recently even found yourself drinking more of the Italian favorite, don’t be scared, it’s all just successful advertising. So how did Aperol make one of the biggest comebacks in the spirit world?
A Brief History:
The year was 1805, the Napoleonic wars were happening and in the aftermath, Austria-Hungary gained control of the Veneto region of Northern Italy (yes that includes the city of Venice) They ruled for nearly 50 years, and thus it was actually the Austrians that took delicious and local Italian wine, added a splash, or in German, a “spritz,” of water. France was boasting about Champagne at the time, Italy had Prosecco, and Austria-Hungary wanted in. However, over the course of two world wars, the recipe changed a few times, the still wine morphed into wine fortified with a liqueur, and that’s how Aperol was born. That story has some details worth mentioning...
When Austria-Hungary ruled Veneto, during the 18th century until 1918, they occupied a region in Italy that held a lot of rich culture. The “Spritz” as a cocktail was born during this time and it stuck around even after the first World War ended. The word "spritz" on its own is a generic term regarding the common Austro-Hungarian practice of adding a splash of water to northern Italian wines. We discussed this previously on What is Kir and our Wine Spritzers Drinks of the Week.
But we are all in this together, and we keep learning as we go! This time around, we found a source claiming that the strong Italian wines were rejected by the refined Habsburg palate, apparently, they were, “too bold,” so a dash of water was the solution to “mellow the wine.”
Fast forward to the 20th century, the "Spritz" as we know it came to be, and now it has a permanent definition: A wine-based cocktail made with bitter liquor and a splash of soda. After the Battle of Vittoria Veneto, the Austria-Hungary empire declined, and they evacuated Italy. This marked the end of the war on the Italian front, but I guess some practices stuck.
Italian liqueur brands like Aperol, Campari, or Cynar play the role of the bitter factor and color, each one brings unique flavor and look. Given its wide range of variables, exact recipes, glass shape, garnishes, and all the customs tied around it- will vary. One good rule of thumb that is an international tradition- you gotta pick your preferred liqueur. So, now that we revisited the Spritz, let’s talk about Aperol’s humble beginnings.
In the forgotten city of Padua, two brothers, Luigi and Silvio Barbieri, wanted to create a new, lighter aperitif unique to their city. The end result was Aperol, and in 1919 (just a year after the Battle of Veneto) the Padua International Fair was coming to town. The two brothers knew this was the perfect opportunity to debut their invention. The fair was a highly coveted event that also included something known as a ‘Campionara’ – you could call it a sort of exhibition devoted to food, travel, and lifestyle. Sort of like today’s food and wine festivals. Aperol was indeed a unique product, from the color to the herbal tones and slight bitterness, everyone loved it. Aperol was a hit at the fair, flaunting its unique orange color, herbal notes, and refined bitterness. However, it wouldn’t be until the 1950s that the Spritz and Aperol came together.
Back then, Aperitivo Hour was born in Italy, and people enjoyed their Aperol in the outdoors. It became a staple, especially in Padua, where it was the choice for glamorous socialites. Eventually, it was even adopted by those in the French Riviera and beyond. This helped make Aperol eventually become the best-selling spirit in Italy. This was all thanks to a little luck and successful advertising from the Barbieri brothers. Aperol was lucky to be born during the Art Nouveau movement in 1919. The brothers were creative businessmen and they soon decided to invest in advertising inspired by Art Nouveau.
They wasted no time, in the 1920s first advertising posters appeared in bars aiming at catching the sports lovers’ attention, thanks to Aperol low alcohol content. But in the 1930s an advertising campaign dedicated to women was published in major newspapers. However, this only did so much… A lot of Italian brands made advertising history in the 1960s thanks to the invention of TV commercials, Aperol did not sleep on that.
The Aperol Spritz enjoyed the 1980s thanks to a revival of the historical aperitif from Veneto called “Spritz.” Thanks to how much they owned it back in Veneto, it was a mascot, a symbol of a higher society in Italy. In 2016 an Italian designer named Luca Trazzi was the genius behind the first signature glass for Aperol Spritz. This was in honor of the new bottle, but Luca kept the glass’s unique and original 1919 shape.
In 2019, we are celebrating Aperol’s 100th anniversary, and they are so ready. Preparations began in 2017, they have been hard at work on a new version of their iconic bottle. The design is still inspired by Art Nouveau style, the new Aperol bottle keeps its sinuous shapes with an “A” carved at the base of the bottleneck, whereas the logo which stands out against the blue background is inclined at 11 degrees, just like its alcohol content.
On 29 June 2012, thousands of Aperol fans descended on the iconic Piazza San Marco in Venice to attempt making a Guinness World Record™ for the ‘Largest Aperol Spritz Toast’. Over 2,600 people joined in the social spirit of Aperol Spritz, eager to clink their glasses to make history.
That sounds like our kind of party!
I have to admit, my passion for this drink might have sold you a bit on Aperol side, and I just want to apologize for seeming biased. Aperol in no way sponsored this post, however, should they ever want to- we’re here for it! It is my absolute favorite drink for 2019, and I think I’ll go have one now!!
Thanks for reading, and as always…