(Halloween candy, not for me; a spritz of bliss, if you please.)
On a trip to Italy, some 20 years back, I discovered Campari, an alcoholic beverage in the family of bitters. For many, it’s an acquired taste (a friend says it reminds her of cough syrup), but I took to the potion — an herbaceous, orangey flavor with notes of bitter bark — as eagerly as another might to a sunset sail along the Amalfi coast.
I’ve always preferred, as most Campari drinkers, to dilute the potent beverage with soda creating one of the ubiquitous Italian spritzes. I remember feeling quite the sophisticate sipping my Campari and Soda in the “piazza’ish” atmosphere of the downtown restaurant scene upon my return to Ann Arbor. Soda, however, is not your only option. For example, a Negroni, which is Campari, gin and sweet vermouth, is another bang of a drink using the bitter.
Imagine my delight on meeting Campari’s little sister, Aperol, similar to Campari in flavor, but having half the alcohol content. The following recipe yields relatively low-octane aperitifs – apertif being an alcoholic drink enjoyed before a meal to stimulate one’s appetite.
Depending on the grape, ounce for ounce, it’s probably less percentage of alcohol than a glass of wine. Savoring an Aperol Spritz – just one, mind you – is a great way to edge into the evening, still allowing enough focus to make dinner.
Further investigation into the sultry brew informs Aperol has a higher sugar content than Campari, is lighter in color and milder in flavor. Although the ingredients used to make Campari have always remained behind locked doors, rumor has it Seville oranges and herbs give it its unique flavor profile.
The internet informs that Aperol is made with licorice, fennel, clover, wormwood and rhubarb, to name a few of the ingredients. The bottle I’m holding in my hands, however, only informs it’s based on an infusion of selected herbs and roots — oops, there’s that questionable FD&C yellow #6 and FD&C Red, #340 – brow-raising ingredients that give it that lovely hue, no doubt.
Apparently I’m slow to the Aperol scene. The woman who sold me the bottle said last year they were having trouble keeping it stocked due to popularity, but 2013 sales have slowed down. Then, last week, when we were having our friends Debbie and Dave to dinner, they said on a recent trip to Venice, the Venetians and tourists “all” seemed to have some version of this orange-tinted spritz in their hand. (They did note, however, there wasn’t a sprig of rosemary in glasses lining the tables in Piazza San Marco.)
Note, however, that Aperol is not a new player on the beverage scene. According to Wikipedia, the beverage was created in 1919, but didn’t take hold with consumers until after World War II. And there are many other ways of enjoying Aperol, many much more potent than the recipe below. How about trying a Valentino, an award- winning cocktail that combines Aperol, tequila, rhubarb and grapefruit juice and pomegranate ginger syrup. Sounds intriguing.
Apparently there are other varieties of Italian Spritz’s in this blissfully bitter landscape that await further exploration. There’s an artichoke liquer — Cynar – a bitter introduced in Italy in 1949, enjoying a renaissance that’s hitting a brisk stride behind bars these days. As its sister bitters, it has a complexity and sweetness, its primary differentiator being hints of florid artichoke, but I’m still partial to my new fave — Avenol – for a bittersweet treat.