Despite being the hottest drinking trend this season, there’s nothing ‘new’ about the spritz.
The drink has been a part of northern Italian drinking culture since the end of the 19th century. During that time, Venice was a part of the Austrian Empire and was heavily populated with German soldiers. The militiamen were not used to the high alcohol content of the local wines from Veneto and began to ask tavern owners to dilute their drops to make them a similar strength to the beers they drank back home.
They would ask for a ‘spritz’, or splash of soda water to be added to the wine, and hence the term ‘spritzer’ came to refer to a drink that was equal parts white wine and soda water.
These thirsty soldiers had the legacy of an 18th century watchmaker and experimenter to thank for their newfound favourite tipple. In 1783, German born Jacob Schweppe opened the Schweppes Company in Geneva, Switzerland. He became the first to mass-produce carbonated mineral water based on the method invented by Joseph Priestly in 1770. Jacob soon expanded his business to England and his soda waters became endorsed by leading doctors at the time as a tonic to treat various ailments.
This belief that soda water could improve general health soon gained traction throughout Europe and people across the continent began mass bottling natural and manufactured sparkling waters. Schweppes was fundamental in this growth with the development of their ‘Hamilton’ bottle in 1809, the first of its kind to retain carbonation. This style of bottle was emulated by other brands, coinciding with the rising popularity of soda water as not only a tonic but also as a great additive to flat beverages, giving them a little spritz of vitality.
In Venice, this act of the German soldiers spiking wine with soda water soon gave way to a new aperitivo, the Spritz Al Bitter. The drink was made with sparkling water, traditional white wines of the Veneto region, such as pinot grigio or soave, and a bitter liqueur, the most popular being Campari, Aperol, Gran Classico, Select or Cynar. In the custom of most aperitivi, the drink was deliberately made to be slightly bittersweet in order to stimulate the appetite.
It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that bartenders in Venice had the bright idea of swapping still white wine with prosecco to enhance the taste of the liqueur and add further fizz. This was the start of the spritz we know and love today. The moreish nature of this cocktail and its relatively low alcohol content, despite the mix of drinks, has been key to cementing it as one of the classics.
Nowadays, the spritz seems to go hand-in- hand with Italy’s best-selling aperitif, Aperol. Since Gruppo Campari acquired Aperol in 2003, their highly effective marketing of the 3, 2, 1 ratio to create the perfect Aperol Spritz has seen the orange aperitif conquer markets globally. The method calls for three parts Italian prosecco (90ml), two parts Aperol (60ml) and one part (30ml) ‘spritz’ of soda water poured into a large wine glass, filled with ice and served with a wedge of orange.
In the 1950s, the brand released their recipe for the now iconic Aperol Spritz, inspired by the traditional Venetian white wine and soda spritzer.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the Aperol Spritz now ranks number 22 on the list of best selling classic cocktails worldwide, according to the 100 Best Bars. A quintessential summer drink, it’s expected that demand for the pleasantly citrusy, bittersweet and refreshing Aperol spritz will only continue to grow in the coming months.