Aperol Spritz | David Hammond

Last March, walking along the cobblestone streets of Rome, we spotted many restaurants and taverns advertising Aperol spritzes, a combination of Aperol (a bright red-orange aperitif), prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), seltzer water, and an orange slice. Quite refreshing, and with bright color, these spritzes seem just right for the hotter months of summer.

The spritz rose to popularity in 19th-century Italy when occupying Austrians found it necessary to dilute the somewhat strong Italian wine with a splash of water (“spritzen” is German for “splash”). Adding water to wine is a time-honored technique: As far back as the Odyssey, Homer relates that Odysseus and his crew regularly added water to their wine, which may have been a way to both make it go further (important during long voyages) and lower the alcohol content. On a hot summer day, we also frequently add a generous scoop of ice cubes to our wine (note: we would not do this with a premium wine).

Aperol is an aperitif, a beverage you take, usually in small quantities, before a meal. It has a relatively low 11% ABV (alcohol by volume) and a slightly bittersweet taste.

Reducing the alcohol of cocktails is something we’ve been experimenting with for a few months now. Spirit-free cocktails (or mocktails) are always an option, and there are some good ones out there, but my preference is simply to reduce the amount of alcohol I put into drinks. An Aperol spritz, because the recipe calls for ice cubes and seltzer (club soda, Topo Chico, etc.), usually contains more water than it does alcohol. When you drink an Aperol spritz, you’re drinking a lot of water, which you should do whenever you drink alcohol.

The main ingredients in Aperol are bitter rhubarb, gentian root (used in traditional medicines to aid digestion) and cinchona (a tree bark that gives tonic water its slight bitterness and has been shown to increase appetite and promote the production of digestive juices). The herbs add dimension to the beverage, which is sweetened slightly by prosecco and the orange slice. So despite the cheery colors of the Aperol spritz, you will never mistake it for a soft drink.

To make the spritz, Aperol is poured over ice, followed by a measure of prosecco, seltzer, and an orange slice. All these ingredients are important to get the flavor and texture of the drink right. We were out of oranges one day, so we couldn’t use them in our Aperol spritzes, and it was clear with each sip that something was missing.

Aperitifs stimulate the appetite and the taste buds, so they make sense before a meal though we find the Aperol spritz to be most pleasant all by itself. As we head into the conclusion of dog days and into second summer (which could go through October), now is a perfect time to enjoy an Aperol spritz.

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David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...