Our Fifth Featured Libation of the World comes from stunning Italy
What is this orange spirit?
While traveling around Europe in recent years, there is a trend that is hard to miss. A lovely vibrant orange cocktail is at every bar you walk into or pass. On our recent visit to Palmero, Italy, it was by far the most common drink on order. There were bars; it seems that was all they served, as its promotion was heavy. The marketing that has brought this aperitif to the forefront has been brilliant.
The aperitif that is sweeping the world by storm is Aperol Spritz. The main ingredient is Aperol, which originates from the Venice region of Italy. The tradition of stimulating the appetite via an aperitivo, or light alcoholic beverage, has centuries-old roots in Italy and remains a cornerstone of the culture today. According to Walks of Italy, the modern version of an aperitivo may stretch back to 1786.
With the incredible success of this libation, we felt it deserved a bit more research and to have its story told.
Some Aperol history
Aperol was first produced in 1919 in Padua in Northern Italy, near Venice. The brothers Silvio and Luigi Barbieri created the recipe for the bittersweet orange liqueur. They presented it at a trade show in Padua in 1919. That original recipe remains unchanged to this day. But it took some time for it to find its audience. It wasn’t until after World War II that Aperol gained attention on a global scale.
The Italian way of life, enjoying an aperitif before dinner, seemingly took the world by storm after WW2. The slang word for apéritif is ‘apéro,’ from where the name Aperol is derived.
Aperol’s success came with the company’s sale to Gruppo Campari in 2003. They started an inspired marketing campaign that introduced it throughout Europe and then launched it in North America. In the United States, even newspapers took note of the amount of Aperol spritz being drunk. Before you knew Aperol and, more specifically, Aperol Spritz was everywhere.
The success of this aperitif seems to be because it’s like drinking a big, cold glass of refreshing sparkling water. What makes it fun is it is not overly sweet, has some fascinating flavors, and is slightly bittersweet. It is simply unique.
Aperol’s Timeline: 100 years and counting
In 1912 the Barbieri brothers, Luigi and Silvio, inherited the family liqueur company of their father, Giuseppe. Over the next seven years, Luigi and Silvio, through dedication and experimentation, perfected what is known as Aperol today.
As WW2 ended and Aperol became a popular hit all over Italy in the following years. Especially among young adults gathering in cafes in Padua and the Venetian bacaros.
In the 1950s, the world-famous recipe that made Aperol Spritz a success was born. “Il Carosello,” the first Aperol TV commercial, hit the airwaves.
From Venice to the world stage.
Aperol Spritz becomes an international aperitif, gaining a more cosmopolitan and sophisticated appeal in the process. To be seen with Aperol Spritz meant something.
What was likely the turning point of Aperol’s reign, the product was acquired by Italy’s Gruppo Campari. This new alliance delivers an influential advertising campaign behind Aperol Spritz across the international market. The marketing was brilliant, and over the following years, Aperol became associated with art, advertising, music, and lifestyle. It has achieved astonishing success throughout the world and in its birthplace Italy.
Aperol is now a household name. In 2012 Aperol Spritz made it into the annals of history with the largest Aperol Spritz toast in the world. More than 2,600 gathered in Piazza San Marco in Venice, and Guinness World recorded the event.
2019 and on
Aperol celebrates its 100th birthday. Now, at its greatest time in popularity, it is recognized worldwide as the sparkling refreshing gem to enjoy while gathering with friends and making connections.
- Aperol contains 11% alcohol by volume, similar to wine.
- It is gluten-free and vegan.
- Aperol is nut free and not made with any equipment that comes in contact with nuts.
- It is claimed that 300,000 spritzes are drunk daily in the Veneto region of Italy.
- Aperol spritzes are usually served in a classic stem wine glass or a low tumbler.
- In Italy, the “place” to savor a true Venetian Aperol Spritz is in a bacaro, a traditional bar found in the narrow streets of Venice.
The herbs and spices
The closely guarded secret recipe utilizes an infusion of these herbs and spices. The flavors noted in Aperol are bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona, among other secret ingredients. Let us learn a bit more about each of these ingredients.
- Bitter orange usually involves gently baking the zest of an orange until dry.
- Gentian is an herb from the root of a flowering plant that often has violet-blue trumpet-shaped flowers. It is known for its medicinal use, especially in digestive issues.
- Rhubard is a spring vegetable known for its lush green leaves. The vibrant pink stalk is the edible part and has distinct flavors. The roots and stem you can find in Chinese herbal medicines. The Rhubarb leaves, though, are poisonous.
- Cinchona is a tree. The bark contains quinine and is used as the flavoring in tonic water. People use the bark to make medicine. Cinchona uses include increasing appetite; promoting the release of digestive juices; and treating bloating.
Can you drink it straight?
Aperol was drunk straight for about thirty years and was targeted toward women and people trying to stay in shape. In the 1950s, bartenders began using it as a component of a spritzer. A spritzer is a German-style drink that dates back to the 19th century. The story goes that Austro-Hungarian soldiers found Italian wines too strong and requested that they be “spritzed” with sparkling water to make them lighter. Hence the humble beginnings of one of the world’s most favored cocktails.
Straight up, Aperol is far too bitter for most people’s liking. You will still find, though, some people prefer Aperol straight up.
What is the difference between Aperol and Campari
While Aperol and Campari have Italian roots, they were born 145 miles away and 59 years apart. First came Campari, a namesake brand by Gaspare Campari, which was a hit from the beginning. The company was deeply set into Italian culture, especially in Milan, where Camparino, the first Campari bar, was opened in 1867.
Today, the two brands are often confused or used interchangeably as they share several key traits: vibrant hues, Italian origin, and flavors that blend both bitter and sweet. This is where taste comes in. Aperol combines the flavors of rhubarb, bitter herbs, and burnt orange, while Campari offers undertones of cherry, clove, rhubarb, cascarilla, cinnamon, and orange peel. Aperol is sweeter than Campari, which has a more intense bitterness.
But try it for yourself as you will find distinct differences between the two popular apéritifs. But in comparison to Campari, Aperol is lighter, brighter, and less bitter. A fact that makes it a perfect ingredient for low-alcohol cocktails.
Check out the Official Aperol site
Not loved by all
It’s not loved by everyone, though, and it received bad press. The New York Times once ran a headline that stated, “The Aperol Spritz is Not a Good Drink.” They suggested that the beverage tastes similar to a children’s chewable multivitamin or a Capri Sun. The article also complained about the low-grade Prosecco being used in the spritzes.
Where to purchase Aperol?
There is no need to leave room in your luggage for Aperol. It can be found in virtually every liquor store in the US. It is imported from Italy and is the same version you will find overseas. Save your luggage space for other trinkets. If you have a friend who is a massive fan of Aperol Spritz, you can purchase some logo glasses for a fun gift.
The price in the US or a standard 750 ml bottle of Aperol tends to be in the upper teens. It is often found near the wine section since it has similar alcohol content.
Choosing your Prosecco
Crisp Prosecco offsets the bright and slightly bitter Aperol, and that final splash of soda keeps things balanced. You shouldn’t pick up just any bottle of bubbly to mix with Aperol. Many Proseccos are sweet, and others can be dry. Finding the word brut (dry) or extra brut (mildly off-dry) on the label is key. This may be confusing, but if you see the word dry, it means the bubbly is sweet and may make your Spritz somewhat sugary, as Aperol itself isn’t terribly bitter. In our experience, we prefer an extra brut.
In the end, choose what you enjoy the most. If you had an exceptionally excellent Aperol Spritz at a bar, ask them what brand of Prosecco they use. Champagne can be substituted if that is what you have on hand.
An orange wedge is a traditional garnish, but most people don’t know that green olives are used often.
May we suggest a few recipes for cocktails?
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Planning a trip to Italy? Check out our Italy Travel Guide
Venice and Aperol Photo Gallery
© 2022 Wanderers Compass All Rights Reserved
To learn more about Italy, Check out Italy’s Official Tourism site
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