The Spritz isn’t new, but it’s a phenomenon

The Aperol Spritz has become a phenomenon.
Joe Amon/The Denver Post The Aperol Spritz has become a phenomenon.

If you make it to Italy this year, be sure to take a look around for the Aperol Spritz. It will certainly be easy to find.

The Aperol Spritz is a phenomenon like no other. Drinks come and go. Some like the Cosmopolitan bask in popularity for years and others are perennial like the Martini. But we have never seen anything reach the popularity of the Aperol Spritz. Never. It is on almost every single table in Italy, everywhere. And it has spread out from there.

Created in 1919 by brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri in Padua (just outside Venice, Italy), Aperol’s softer, sweeter taste (and pinkish-orange color) was a regional challenge to the powerhouse of Piedmont’s bitter carmine-colored Campari. Aperol is half the strength of Campari and derives its flavor primarily from gentian, cinchona and rhubarb. Originally it was quite popular, but post-World War II, its popularity began to fade. So much so that Gruppo Campari purchased the brand in 2003. And then, along came the Aperol Spritz.

A Hugo Spritz combines elderflower liqueur, sparkling water, sparkling wine, mint and Champagne grapes. (Photo by Holly Stanton-Burkhart)
Photo by Holly Stanton-Burkhart. A Hugo Spritz combines elderflower liqueur, sparkling water, sparkling wine, mint and Champagne grapes.

The Spritz is also not a new drink. It originated in Venice in the 1800s when the Habsburgs of Austria ruled the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. Venice’s last Habsburg ruler was Franz Joseph I, the third-longest ruling monarch in European history. He was the brother of the Mexican Emperor Maximilian I, (for which the Battle of Puebla was fought, giving us Americans the pan-Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo) as well as the uncle of Austria-Hungarian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination started World War I.

Spritz comes from the German “spritzen,” or “sparkling,” and originally meant mixing the local wine with sparkling water. A summer or an early fall in Italy and you will quickly realize why, unlike most of Europe, they like ice in their drinks. Mediterranean not only refers to a region but also is a climate that features hot humidity, so iced drinks are a necessity. In fact, the classic Americano cocktail, the precursor to the Negroni, was essentially a Vermouth Spritz with Campari added. The modern Spritz simply adds the ubiquitous Italian sparkling wine — prosecco — to the mix. Somewhat ironically, the Campari Spritz is also seeing a surge in popularity, riding the coattails of its former bitter rival.

Today, Aperol outsells Campari nearly two to one, combining for a whopping 140 million liters sold in 2022 — 79.2 million liters of Aperol, 40.5 million liters of Campari — according to Statista. And they are expecting sales to increase by 20% in 2023. Phenomenon is almost an understatement.

Other liquor companies have certainly noticed and are now getting in on the act. Other Spritzes are now appearing on the market using a basic ratio of one part spirit, one part prosecco and a splash of soda water. All are served in wine glasses with ice and the garnish often depends on the spirit itself.

Here is a California-ized and localized take on the original, and two other examples that I have collected for you from my travels in Italy.



California Spritz

1 ounce Young & Yonder California Amaro

1 ounce Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

¾ ounce sparkling water

1 blood orange wheel

Fill a large Bordeaux-style wine glass three quarters full of ice. Add amaro and sparkling wine, stir and top with soda. Garnish by submerging orange slice.

Note: Young & Yonder’s Amaro is heavier than Aperol, but lighter than Campari, giving you the best of both worlds.

Hugo Spritz

1 ounce St‑Germain elderflower liqueur

1 ounce Domaine Carneros extra-dry brut

¾ ounce sparkling water

1 ounce (about a loose tablespoon) of cleaned and stemmed mint leaves

5 or 6 Champagne grapes

Fill a large Bordeaux-style wine glass three quarters full of ice. Add elderflower liqueur and sparkling wine. Top with soda water and place mint leaves on top, then stir to combine, and then garnish with grapes.

Note: Typically, this drink is garnished with currants, but those are hard to find here. Champagne grapes, also called corinth, or zante currant grapes, are not the traditional grapes used for champagne production, but a smaller, more bitter eating grape that approximates the flavor and look of a currant.

Limoncello-ish Spritz

¾ ounce Hanson Meyer lemon vodka

¾ ounce Hanson Mandarin orange vodka

½ ounce fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice

½ ounce honey simple syrup (50:50 water to honey)

1 ounce J Vineyards Cuvée 20 sparkling wine

¾ ounce sparkling water

1 lemon zest

Fill a large Bordeaux-style wine glass three quarters full of ice. Combine first five ingredients and stir slightly. Top with soda water and garnish with lemon zest.

Note: You may use homemade limoncello for this but remember fruit infusions do not last indefinitely if made with fresh fruit. Distilled versions will, which is why using flavored vodka is often a better option. We add the honey and the squeezed lemon juice to approximate the cloudy and color slightly different flavor of limoncello.