If last summer is any indication, a certain electric orange cocktail will be seen on patios aplenty this season.
That’s because Aperol, owned by Campari, made a full-throttle marketing effort in 2018 to get the 100-year-old Italian liqueur into Americans’ glasses. It worked. The Aperol Spritz, a low-proof aperitif made of sparkling wine, club soda and the bittersweet liqueur, has ascended to Drink of Summer status. “You used to see it only ordered by older ladies who come out for lunch,” says Ben Kippley, lead bartender at 6Smith in Wayzata. “Now, you have 25-year-olds ordering it.”
Because of the drink’s mounting popularity, bartenders have become emboldened to put their own spins on the classic. Blueberry syrup, basil, gin and sauvignon blanc are making their way into concoctions popping up across the Twin Cities.
At Red Rabbit in Minneapolis and St. Paul, beverage director Ian Lowther serves the original spritz on tap, but he’ll happily make customers a version with any of two dozen or so amari, or bitter cordials, his bars keep in stock. The red-hued spirits are flavored with bitter roots and herbs that balance out sugar and citrus (and in Aperol’s case, rhubarb). The spritz is “infinitely customizable,” Lowther says.
What accounts for Aperol’s popularity? The 11% alcohol content might have something to do with it. (Compare that with vodka’s 40%.) “The actual trend is session cocktails,” says Nick Kosevich, co-founder of Bittercube bitters and cocktail consulting. That means drinks light enough to sip all day.
“You can only handle so many 10-ounce martinis,” says Geoffrey Trelstad, beverage operations director at the Lexington in St. Paul and Smack Shack in Minneapolis. “Aperol is really easy to consume. It’s this refreshing sweet spot. You’re not in a hurry to go anywhere with it.”
3 sipworthy spritzes
Red Rabbit, redrabbitmn.com
Five-gallon kegs contain the cocktail in its classic form, which evokes “middle of summer in Italy,” says beverage director Ian Lowther. Garnished with an orange slice, the simple drink is enduring, he says. “Every summer from now until the end of civilization will be the summer of the spritz.”
In place of sparkling wine, beverage director Ben Kippley mixes Aperol with gin. A housemade blueberry-basil syrup turns the whole concoction a pretty blush, while an ice cube of watermelon and orange keeps it juicy. It’s topped with a splash of soda for fizz, and a basil leaf. “It looks like a mini terrarium,” Kippley says.
The Lexington, thelexmn.com
Kegged and on tap, this drink swaps sparkling wine for a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. The wine gives the cocktail an acidic zip, and a hint of grapefruit is a slightly sweet palate awakener. The bubbling spritz is served over crushed ice, like a slushie. “We’re keeping it simple,” said beverage director Geoffrey Trelstad. “Nothing too ironic.”
Not only is Aperol Spritz easy to drink, it’s also easy to make. Modifications are endless. This recipe comes straight from Aperol: Fill a wine glass with ice. Add equal parts prosecco and Aperol, followed by a splash of soda. Garnish with an orange slice.