The New York Times is right. Aperol spritzes aren’t particularly great. But before you “cancel” me, I’d ask: Is that really the point of them?
If you’ve been sequestered for grand jury duty or something and missed it, on Thursday an internet hullabaloo erupted when Rebekah Peppler wrote in the NYT that “The Aperol Spritz Is Not a Good Drink,” comparing it to a Capri Sun. Twitter exploded, “dunking” on the Paris-based writer, with everyone sharing their unyielding love for the Aperol Spritz and their hatred for Peppler’s dumb opinion. “Aperol Spritz” trended with over 3,000 mentions during the day. Eventually, Grub Street declared that “Entire Internet Agrees Aperol Spritz Is, in Fact, Good.”
Well, I don’t agree. Yeah, it’s good sometimes, but not always.
The spritz is a simple drink, which means that every component matters. An apéritif, it’s typically made with a bitter liqueur base topped with sparkling wine and fizzy water over ice. If any of those ingredients are low-quality, your cocktail is going to be as well. The problem begins with Aperol, one of the least complex amari—too sweet, hardly bitter, not boozy at all. Likewise, most places and people that make spritzes use dirt-cheap prosecco—you’ll have a hangover before you’re even drunk.
And, you know what? That’s fine. I hesitate to say this as a booze writer and critic, but: Since when does every food and drink on planet earth need to be fucking world class?
Aperol Spritzes in Milan in front of the Duomo Cathedral. | Ross Helen/Getty Images
On a recent trip to Rome this past December, I wasn’t pounding Aperol Spritzes every day because they were amazing. I was drinking them because it was two o'clock in the afternoon and I was with my wife in the third most romantic city on earth and I had no work to do and nothing to worry about and it was warm enough to sit outside while Vespas zipped by us and Romans chain-smoked and they only cost €4 apiece.
In Italy, an Aperol Spritz is an ice-cold Bud at the ballgame. It's a Guinness at a Dublin pub. You’re not sitting there closely analyzing these drinks—“I detect some mocha notes”—you’re using them to supplement your life, to relax in the sun while rooting on your team, to pound pints with the boys and have a laugh. As my wife always says to me when I’m geeking out over some exotic cocktail while completely ignoring her: “Can we talk about something besides your stupid drink?”
This is especially true in Italy, whose Aperol Spritzes really aren’t that great—often made using trash ice worse than what you’d get from a Ramada Inn hallway ice machine, and with prosecco you wouldn’t dump in orange juice. The drink is quotidian, and that’s intentional, meant for nothing more than adding a little boost of pleasure to your current situation. I once ranked it the second-best overall “day-drinking” drink around.
So, I presume, when people are saying that Aperol Spritzes are “good,” they are more saying that spritz culture is good. That the friendship and conversation and mere whiling away of an afternoon over a round of spritzes is good. Just look at the much-mocked #spritzlife hashtag on Instagram—wouldn’t you rather be there right now than where you currently are?
It's not like you'd ever drink a spritz by yourself at midnight while sitting in the dark and bingeing that Ted Bundy documentary.
As for taste, the Aperol Spritz is a perfectly fine “gateway” spritz and, for most people, a great introduction to the category of amari. If you want a spritz that will truly knock your socks off, order one with the artichoke-based Cynar, the piney Braulio, or even a cool American amaro like St. Agresis. Use quality ice and a good sparkling wine.
You can go even further with a spritz. The amazing Dante in New York offers an entire spritz menu, featuring elevated takes on the drink like one made with Hendrick’s gin, elderflower liqueur, cucumber purée, lemon, and maldon salt. Or, my favorite, the intriguing “Il Peperino,” a mix of Martini Bitter, manzanilla sherry, mezcal, a red bell pepper tincture, and prosecco. It’s hard to wrap your head around the flavor profile, fluctuating between bitter and smoky, floral with a lovely little bit of nuttiness, the bubbles tickling your throat before the pepper slightly stings your esophagus.
And, if I said all that to my wife this weekend as we lazily lounged at a sidewalk table in Greenwich Village, sipping our spritzes, she’d say to me: "Can we talk about something besides your stupid drink?"
From: Esquire US