What is a spritz?
What you’re dealing with here is a simple cocktail comprising sparkling wine, soda water, and bitters – the perfect thing to drink as afternoon turns into evening. The serve was popularised in the UK by Italian drinks colossus Gruppo Campari whose canny marketing of Aperol – an orange and rhubarb flavoured bitter liqueur from Veneto – brought the spritz to the UK. For Bobby Hiddleston – veteran spritzer and owner of Soho cocktail institution Swift – their arrival on the scene is cause for celebration. ‘I think spritzes are exactly what Britain needs in the summertime.’ He adds that, ‘They are light, social, and delicious. It’s a lean towards the responsible afternoon drinking that has been embraced by continental Europe for decades.’
Where does it come from?
It’s definitely true that we brits are late to the party on this one. Bitter Liqueurs have been traditional to the Italian Peninsula since before Italy as a nation even existed. These botanical infusions were taken to stimulate the appetite, aid digestion, and promote general vigour – often with a little water or wine to help the medicine go down. But it wasn’t until the 1780s that German inventor Johann Jacob Schweppe – whose name may be familiar to you – commercialised his process for making carbonated water and set the table for a million aperitivo hours.
The spritz has been popular in Italy ever since where it forms part of an ecosystem of pre-dinner drinks that also includes the Americano and the Negroni. These days the bubbles in a spritz are further intensified with the use of prosecco, whose modern form is intensely sparkling and provides additional lift.
What do I need?
A basic spritz is 3 parts wine, 2 parts bitter, and 1 part soda. It’s a simple and forgiving formula that leaves lots of room for experimentation.
The wine should be Prosecco, ideally one described as extra dry or brut. Prosecco can come with a lot of added sugar so opting for a dryer style will stop you spritz becoming too sweet. Collalto in Veneto make a lovely brut which will be perfect for the purpose but you can also pick up an absolutely suitable San Leo Prosecco at Waitrose for about a tenner. Don’t feel tempted to upgrade to Champagne, such a thing would be illegal in Italy and anyway your spritz will likely wind up much less than the sum of its parts.
For the soda individual cans or small bottles are best as an open bottle of soda water will lose its sparkly pretty quickly. A flat spritz is a total contradiction in terms and best avoided. Fever-Tree make a nice quality soda water but you can always go traditional and raise a glass to Mr Schweppe.
Your wine and soda should be good quality but they’re supporting characters, the real star here is your bitter. Aperol is approachable and easy-going, bringing sweet oranges and rhubarb to your drink. Campari is a natural place to go from there and will make for a slightly more bracing spritz with an earthier and more herbal profile and added quinine bitterness. Luxardo, better known for their maraschino cherries and liqueurs, make a bianco bitter that will give you a clear, white spritz that tastes lightly of peach and blossoms. From there you might be tempted to delve deeper into the darker, more intense world of Italian amari and make spritz with Cynar, a serious and earthy drink with artichoke among its ingredients, or Amaro Montenegro, which balances clove and caramel with intense aromas of rose petal and vanilla. There’s a whole world of bitters out there and one of them will be your favourite, it’s important to explore.
And how do I put it together?
Once you’ve found a bitter you like assembling your spritz is easy. A 50ml measure goes into a glass with lotsof ice – a large wine glass is popular but a highball will do nicely.
Next comes your sparkling wine; don’t measure it as this will flatten it right out, instead eyeball 75ml and pour slowly over the ice so as not to break the bubbles. Give the whole thing a gentle stir to combine your ingredients while still maintaining your fizz, top with about 25ml of soda (again, you don’t need to measure) and give it a final stir before garnishing. This will generally consist of a slice of orange or grapefruit but it’s not uncommon to see a sprig of rosemary or an olive.
For the full effect you want to serve some salty snacks with your spritz. Order one during aperitivo hour in Northern Italy and it will come with at least a few crisps and olives though some establishments will even throw in salumi, cheese, and other little bits of antipasti. This is how you drink in Italy; booze is something that accompanies food, gives you a boost when you need it, or sets you up for the next part of the day. The salt in your simple spread will cut the bitterness of your spritz and further stimulate your appetite, exactly what you need.
And what if I want to mix it up?
For Bobby Hiddleston the spritz affords exciting scope for experimentation. ‘Be as creative as you feel – fortified wines and summery flavours are great, but don’t feel pigeonholed. Just try to avoid citrus juice or other things that’ll make your drink cloudy. Strong spirits are fine, but use them sparingly as a spritz is designed to be light and quaffable.’ The aperitivo menu of £6 spritzes is served at Swift from 3pm to 7pm and features such exotic ingredients as mango, Sauternes, fino Sherry, and peach vermouth. Not to be missed is the Solstice, which is best drunk al fresco in recently pedestrianised Soho, but it’s also easy to make at home.
Try the Solstice:
25ml Martini Bitter
25ml Martini Fiero (blood orange vermouth)
25ml Sparkling Water
1tsp Passionfruit syrup
Pour all ingredients into a large wine glass filled with ice and top generously with prosecco.
What variations like this show us is that as long as we maintain the basic principles of the spritz – that it’s bitter, cold, bubbly, and refreshing – there’s lots of fun to be had exploring its near infinite permutations. Salute.