It's hot. You're thirsty. And, as usual, you're seated at the bar. You could order a cold beer, a glass of rosé, or maybe a stiff drink. No, no and no!
What you really want is a spritz. Light, crisp, cool and refreshing, spritzes are the perfect summer beverage. They won't fill you up like beer. They are infinitely more complex than a glass of wine. And they won't knock you flat on your ass after a few like most cocktails.
Made with imported liqueurs like Aperol, Campari, Fernet-Branca, Cynar and others, the spritz is the sophisticated—and au currant—version of the white wine spritzer of old.
"You're seeing a lot more of these being ordered in places like New York, San Francisco and even here," explains Darko Marinkovic, bartender at Rosewood Grill in Strongsville. "These refreshing low-alcohol beverages allow the guest to enjoy more than one cocktail, which is great in hot weather. You can have one amazing Manhattan or a few of these liqueur-based cocktails."
On their own, liqueurs like Aperol, Campari and Fernet-Branca can be bitter, cloying, pungent, herbaceous and, well, off-putting to all but the boldest of boozehounds. But combine them with some sparkling wine and a splash of soda and you have an uplifting summer refresher.
The Aperol Spritz, practically the national drink of Italy, is sweeping through hip bars and restaurants of this country like a tipsy tidal wave. Bittersweet and bubbly, orange as Florida sunshine, and cooler than a root beer float, it's easy to see why the beverage is taking the nation by storm. Like Lay's potato chips, Aperol Spritzes are nearly impossible to stop once you've started.
But Aperol is just the tip of the iceberg thanks to a vast and growing selection of interesting imported liqueurs. Older even than the Aperol Spritz is the Campari Spritz, made with the more assertive Italian liqueur. And the relative newcomer of the bunch, the Cynar Spritz, is made with the herbaceous and vegetal spirit of the same name.
Rob Bell, bar manager at XYZ Tavern in University Circle, thinks he knows why we're seeing an uptick in spritz mania.
"It goes along with the elevated food and cocktail culture we're experiencing," he explains. "People are really starting to get into the history and story behind regional products like these that have been around for hundreds of years—some of them with stories of princes running from battle and handing over prized family recipes."
They also reflect a maturation of the American palate, he adds, as we continue to move away from overly sweet drinks and toward those with more complex flavor profiles. For a bartender like Bell, these atypical liqueurs bring distinctive—at times idiosyncratic—flavors to the cocktail party.
"They add curious complexity," Bell says. "Campari has like 88 different ingredients. Since everybody tastes things differently, certain notes will come out based on your own personal experiences."
Marinkovic agrees. "I'm a huge fan of using these liqueurs to add a different dynamic to drinks; they are so much better than using processed, flavored spirits like cherry vodka or whatever. And there are so many great ones out there."
One his favorites is Domaine de Canton, a ginger-flavored liqueur, but Fernet, Aperol, Campari, and Pimm's all get blended into refreshing carbonated low-alcohol beverages. Variations on the theme include swapping the sparkling wine for non-sparkling red or white wine. The club soda can be replaced by bitter lemon soda, ginger beer or even hard cider.
Bell whips up something called a Drambuie Lemonade that blends the honey-flavored scotch liqueur with fresh lemon juice, soda and ice. "It's crisp, satisfying and has a slight booze flavor," he says. "Everybody I make it for seems to love it. And they're sessionable; you can drink a few without losing your mind."