Techniques

Put Your Own Spin on the Aperol Spritz

To offer a little inspiration, we hit up a couple bartenders who relish in deviating from the norm when it comes to this Italian favorite.
The Aperol Spritz is a classic cocktail, but that doesn't mean you can't switch it up every now and then.
The Aperol Spritz is a classic cocktail, but that doesn't mean you can't switch it up every now and then.

The original, traditional Aperol Spritz is an aperitif that hails straight from Italy, where the Aperol spirit (a citrusy, bitter amaro) was invented in 1919 by the Padova-based Barbieri brothers. Aperol first existed as a standalone spirit for several decades, often served neat as a pre-dinner palate and appetite enhancer.

The Spritz — traditionally made with Aperol, dry sparkling wine or Prosecco, a splash of soda, and a decorative, aromatic orange twist — became popular in the 1950s. Depending on the region and the bartender, you may see the Spritz made with Campari instead of Aperol, and today many bartenders will ask the patron to specify which spirit she prefers.

Straying from the Standard

While the traditional Aperol Spritz isn’t going anywhere, it’s always fun to put your own spin on a classic. To offer a little inspiration, we hit up a couple bartenders who relish in deviating from the norm when it comes to this Italian favorite.

“I used to work at an Italian restaurant with over 20 different kinds of amaro, so I've tried a ton of variations,” said Tracy Fabricante, the head bartender at NYC’s P.S. Kitchen. “I like to add a squeeze of orange or grapefruit and a dash of citrus bitters, but in the summer, I usually garnish my spritz with a couple of slices of cucumber for a cool and refreshing taste.”

P.S. Kitchen's Aperol Spritz changes depending on the season and what people are in the mood for.She said that she’s also experimented with adding rose water, Thatcher's Elderflower liqueur, and Marolo's chamomile grappa, which each add their own complexity and depth (pictured left). Another unexpected ingredient that may sound odd, but actually works, is iced coffee, says Fabricante. After observing people adding tonic water to their iced coffee, she was inspired to mix hers with an Aperol spritz. The result? Magic. A totally different flavor profile, but nonetheless a refreshing cocktail.

Fabricante added, “I've seen [the Aperol Spritz] served more like a sangria with fresh fruit or garnished with olives instead of an orange slice, and I've also seen it made with half Aperol, half Campari, a splash of orange juice, grapefruit juice, salt and pepper, topped off with Prosecco, and a slap of basil.”

In L.A., bartender Wakefield turned the Aperol Spritz into a not-too-sweet vodka cocktail called "French Knickers." In L.A., bartender Wakefield turned the Aperol Spritz into a not-too-sweet vodka cocktail called "French Knickers."

Jacki Wakefield of Los Angeles’ The Stalking Horse is a fan of adding a splash of citrus-forward gin for an extra kick, but the creativity doesn’t stop there. Take Wakefield’s French Knickers, for example. It’s a liberal riff on the Aperol Spritz that’s made with vodka, Aperol, strawberry puree, lemon juice, and Cava.

“When coming up with the ‘French Knickers,’ I wanted to create a vodka cocktail that was approachable and a crowd-pleaser, but not too sweet,” Wakefield explained. “I already wanted to work with strawberries, and Aperol was a great addition to balance sweetness and the citrus notes. The Cava was to add some effervescence and body.”

The list of unexpected ingredients you can incorporate is endless, and it’s ultimately your prerogative to stay close to home or stray far away. Whether it’s a playful garnish on a classic spritz or a variation that’s barely recognizable, what matters is that the cocktail is pleasing to your patron’s palate.

“Don't be afraid to experiment. If your idea doesn't come together the first time — and it rarely does — locate the root of the problem. You could be barking up the wrong tree, but most likely you are not and it just needs a little tweaking,” says Wakefield. “And don't be afraid of taking suggestions. Some of my best cocktails have come from people giving me jokingly bad ideas — and they lit a lightbulb.”

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