The spritz formula is simple: Take your favorite bittersweet aperitivo and add it to a highball glass or a goblet with some sparkling wine, soda water, and a generous scoop of ice, and garnish it with a citrus wedge or twist. Et voilà: You have yourself a spritz.
If you’re familiar with the Aperol Spritz—the Italian classic that’s taken the world by storm in the past few years—then you already know this standard formula. But the spritz isn’t limited to one base aperitivo, nor is it confined to the structure of aperitivo-wine-soda. Once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, there are many ways to upgrade your spritz with an array of spirits, liqueurs, cordials, and syrups.
Read on for the basics of making a spritz—and top bartenders’ recommendations for playing with the classic formula.
“As with any mixed drink, starting with the best ingredients you can get your hands on is always the first step,” says Nick Jackson, the group beverage manager at Barrafina, Parrillan, and Bar Daskal in London. In the case of the spritz, you’ll want to use clear and proportionate ice, and high-quality sodas, aperitifs, and wines.
“With the spritz in particular, you’re looking for ingredients that are also fresh and delicate to stimulate the appetite,” Jackson continues. “An important part of executing a great spritz is making sure it’s bone-chillingly cold, so you want to fit as much ice into the glass as you can.”
Matt Ottley, the head bartender at Luca, an Italian restaurant in London, echoes Jackson’s sentiment about using quality ice—and lots of it—and emphasizes the importance of using fresh mixers that are chilled and powerfully effervescent.
Add a Splash of Something Unexpected
Often, part of the spritz’s appeal is the drink’s low alcohol content, but adding a splash of a complementary spirit, fortified wine, or liqueur is an easy way to elevate the drink without making it as strong as a Margarita or other “typical” cocktail.
A simple swap is to substitute a different amaro, such as Cynar, for the typical Aperol, but the options for customizing your spritz are virtually endless.
“Add a tiny amount of fruit liqueur to elevate the flavor,” suggests Alessandro Zampieri, the owner and bartender at Il Mercante in Venice, the birthplace of the spritz, adding that it’s the recommendation he always offers to friends. “With just a half-ounce of blackberry, peach, or grapefruit liqueur, you can boost the complexity of your spritz, even when using a base of one of the classic bitter aperitifs such as Aperol, Campari, or Select.”
At Luca, bartenders split the base ingredients in the spritz for an added layer of complexity—three parts dry vermouth to one part blackberry liqueur, for example.
“The blackberry liqueur is very sweet, so a small amount cuts through the dryness of the dry vermouth and gives some depth to the flavors of the botanicals in the vermouth,” says Ottley. He also opts to use a blood-orange soda to add a drier, bitter element to complement the sweet blackberry liqueur.
Ottley recommends starting with an equal-parts blend of base spirits, and adjusting the levels if there’s a particular element you want to highlight. “The fun of coming up with a spritz that you really love is playing around with it and seeing what works for you,” he says.
The wine component of a spritz is generally a sparkling wine such as prosecco, which adds not just effervescence but also a touch of acidity to balance the bittersweet aperitivo. Instead of using sparkling wine, however, many bartenders call on vermouths and sherries, and add extra soda water for the bubbly element.
“Vermouth, for me, is always a welcome addition to a cocktail,” says Jackson. “Depending on the brand, it can add anything from richness and sweetness to herbal complexity and mouth-watering dryness." He particularly likes Lustau blanco and Gonzalez Byass La Copa extra seco.
To strengthen the base of your spritz, many bartenders recommend adding a small dose of a higher-proof spirit. This option typically adds a leaner mouthfeel to the drink, but lends unique flavors that can only be obtained from spirits.
“If you want to add some power, use a small amount of gin or other spirit that pairs well with the other flavors in your spritz,” says Zampieri. “Usually a half-ounce is perfect.” For Venice Cocktail Week in 2020, he made a spritz with Select, peach liqueur, dry vermouth, and pear cider. “We wanted to replicate the flavors in the famous Bellini, a Venetian classic,” he says.
Try Adding Non-Alcoholic Components
Augmenting your spritz with a spirit, liqueur, or fortified wine is perhaps the most common twist, but it does mitigate the drink’s low-ABV appeal. By adding a syrup, shrub, or cordial, you can harness the flavors of a season without an additional alcoholic punch.
“We’ve used syrups and cordials in spritzers in the past because they add an extra layer of complexity to this style of cocktail,” says Ottley. “The best thing to do is start with a very small amount—a barspoon or a quarter-ounce—and then dial it up to the sweetness that you like, as opposed to using a double-measure and then having to dry it out a bit.”
Ottley suggests trying grenadine or a cherry syrup to add complexity. “It’s ultimately down to an individual’s flavor preferences and what they want to add to their spritz,” he says.
At Parrillan, Jackson says he’s working on developing a non-alcoholic spritz. “Shrubs are a great way to get the full complex flavor of the ingredients you’re using,” he says. “They’re easy to use. They’re inherently balanced because of the vinegar’s acidity and sweetness of the sugar, so all you need is a shrub and sparkling water and you have yourself a delicious non-alcoholic spritz.”
Get Creative with Garnishes
The citrus twist is a spritz’s best friend. The effervescence of the drink lifts subtle aromatic elements, both in the cocktail and the garnishes.
“A twist is a great go-to garnish, as the oils add so much aroma and flavor,” says Jackson. “If the drink needs a little more acidity and freshness, go for lemon; if you want to highlight some richer fruit notes, then orange is the way to go. If your spritz needs a little bit of bitterness, then grapefruit works wonders.”
You might also turn to the cocktails’ ingredients for garnish inspiration. This could mean adding freshly ground pink peppercorns to a spritz with pink peppercorn cordial, or rosemary and mint to echo an aperitif made with those botanicals.
You can also simply garnish your spritz variation with presentation in mind. “If you’re after pure aesthetics, then edible flowers can be a beautiful addition to any drink as a garnish, especially in a lively spritz,” says Jackson.
No matter how you customize your spritz, remember that this Italian classic is ultimately a very forgiving drink. So have some fun with it!