The Basics Tips & Tricks

It’s Time to Upgrade Your Summer Spritz

Ditch the usual rules and add the unexpected.

The Bergamericano Spritz at Luca in London
The Bergamericano Spritz at Luca in London Image:

Luca

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 limited to the standard structure of aperitivo-wine-soda. Once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, there are many ways to spice up your spritz with an array of spirits, liqueurs, cordials, and syrups as a way to elevate the drink or simply make it more seasonal. 

These days, many bartenders have started exploring new ways to build and execute the beloved spritz. But before getting fancy with it, it’s important to revisit the basics.

Spritz Essentials

“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. This means using clear and proportionate ice, and quality wines, aperitifs, and chilled sodas. “With the spritz in particular, you're looking for ingredients that are also fresh and delicate to stimulate the appetite,” he 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 also 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. In essence, the pros believe that temperature and dilution are the name of the game, so keep everything as cold as possible. After ticking that box, it’s all about balance and freshness.

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 a simple way to elevate the cocktail without making it as strong as a Margarita or other “typical” cocktail.

From fruit-flavored liqueurs to unexpected aperitivi (a simple swap is to try a bitter amaro, such as Cynar, in place of the typical Aperol), the options for customizing your spritz’s flavor profile are virtually endless. Adding your own twist can also be a great way to give your spritz a sense of time and place.

“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, the bar always opts for splitting the base ingredients in the spritz for an added layer of complexity. The bar’s current spritz iteration is three parts dry vermouth to one part blackberry liqueur, according to Ottley. “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,” he says. He also opts to use a blood-orange soda to add a drier, bitter element to complement the sweet blackberry liqueur. 

The house spritz at Luca
The house spritz at Luca.

Luca

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

In a spritz, the wine component 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. These non-carbonated fortified wines allow for an increased soda component for a shifted flavor profile and structure. “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. Lustau blanco and Gonzalez Byass La Copa extra seco, in particular, seem to be making their way into most of my summer cocktails at the moment.”

To strengthen the base of your spritz, many bartenders recommend adding a small dose of a higher-proof spirit. This 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 last year’s Venice Cocktail Week, 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, adding that the cocktail will likely find its way back onto the bar’s cocktail menu.

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, however, you can harness the flavors of a season to spice up your spritz 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 lifts subtle aromatic elements, in the drink’s ingredients as well as the ones used as garnish. “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.”

Aside from garnishing for aroma, you must not ignore the significance of a spritz’s aesthetic. “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. 

You might also consider pairing the ingredients in the cocktail with the garnish, in the way that many cocktail bars will garnish a gin and tonic with ingredients that mirror or complement the gin’s botanicals. This could mean adding freshly ground pink peppercorns to a spritz with pink peppercorn cordial, or rosemary and mint for an aperitif made with those botanicals. 

The options for spicing up your spritz are virtually endless. Just remember: The spritz is a forgiving cocktail, so have some fun with it!