Story bar Cara Devine. Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing youtube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nowadays, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Australian summer is sponsored by Aperol. In packed pub beer gardens, bustling rooftop venues, cosy neighbourhood wine bars and major sporting events, the tell-tale orange hue glows from elegant wine glasses and plastic cups alike. Even those who ‘don’t drink cocktails’ (and whose eyes would certainly glaze over if you tried engaging them in a conversation on the relative merits of amari) will smash the Spritzes like there’s no tomorrow the second the sun shines. So what is it about this magical formula that has such mass appeal?
While the Spritz has an undeniably Italian identity, we actually have Austrians to thank for the conception (and the name!). After the Napoleonic wars, the Austro-Hungarians were occupying the North of Italy and found the robust local wines too strong for their refined palates, so took to adding a splash of water – in German, ‘das Spritzen’. Over time, with influence from cocktail culture in the States, this morphed to be the Spritz recipe we know now – sparkling wine fortified with liqueur or amari and a splash of fizzy water. Aperol has been championing the Spritz serve since the 1950s, but when it was bought out by Campari in the early 2000s the world didn’t stand a chance against that marketing machine – the 3-2-1 proportions guideline, easy build and simple garnish made it easily replicable whether at a backyard barbecue or a boujee bar.
“After the Napoleonic wars, the Austro-Hungarians were occupying the North of Italy and found the robust local wines too strong for their refined palates, so took to adding a splash of water – in German, ‘das Spritzen’.”
The flavour balance is deliciously more-ish too – a bittersweet base lengthened out with crisp refreshment. As with all simple drinks, the ingredients have to be solid – the sparkling wine doesn’t have to be expensive but it does have to be dry, and good quality. The importance of the soda cannot be underplayed; without that splash, the effect is cloying. And for me, the most commonly seen mistake is not enough ice. This drink needs to be piled high with icy crystals, glistening and quenching looking. A couple of sad cubes melting in room temperature liquid does not achieve the desired, cooling satisfaction.
Of course, Aperol may be the gateway drug, with it’s particularly low ABV and gentle, juicy palate making it eminently approachable, but it does not corner the Spritz market entirely with plenty of other bitter aperitifs that are very adaptable like Cynar or even the local Okar by Applewood.
My venue, Bomba, is a rooftop bar and we consistently have three or four Spritz style drinks on the menu. As a bar manager, it makes sense: no shaking or stirring required so it takes pressure off the cocktail station, and can be built in advance for a ‘just add ice’ arrival drink; the cost of ingredients is low so you can make good margins while still offering a sharp price point to your guests; the lower alcohol content allows for good RSA even when folks are getting stuck in for a longer session; and, most importantly, it’s what people want to drink! The lighter, brighter style also makes it a much better food pairing than a lot of other, stronger cocktails – it was born for Aperitivo Hour, after all, and suits the tapas-style snacks that we and many other bars provide.
“The Spritz is one of those simple cocktail templates which provide endless opportunities for riffs for imaginative bartenders. You just need a little bitter, a little sweet, and the all important bubbles.”
The Spritz is one of those simple cocktail templates which provide endless opportunities for riffs for imaginative bartenders. You just need a little bitter, a little sweet, and the all important bubbles. Garnishes can be matched for pops of colour and aroma – fresh herbs are a great choice if you want to move away from the classic wedge or olive. Seasonal fruit works as either garnish or ingredient in syrups and shrubs. Artisan tonics and sodas can be a different way of introducing the eponymous spritz and, if desired, a boozy backbone can be added through using spirits (although this does lead us into thorny territory – when is a Spritz not a Spritz?. But while some interpretations probably blur the line between Spritz and Collins, I don’t think anyone is too concerned on a warm and sunny afternoon!).
Essentially, the Spritz is a versatile crowd pleaser whose utility to bars should not be underestimated. Effervescent is a compliment for a reason, as it’s one of life’s great sensory pleasures. So when the thermometer hits 40° and the watch hits Spritz o’clock, I can’t help but echo that great philosopher from Finding Nemo: ‘Bubbles? My bubbles!’.
Soleado Spritz 60ml mandarin infused blanco tequila* 90ml cava 30ml soda Build in wine glass Add ice Garnish with vermouth soaked mandarin and olive skewer *peel 5 mandarins and add everything (peels and segments) to 1 litre of vermouth. Leave overnight and strain, reserving segments for garnish. Alejandro Archibald, formerly Bomba now Nomad