Celebrating a century of stylish sipping with iconic Italians Aperol and Campari…
In 1919 the Barbieri brothers of Italy unveiled a curious bright orange-red concoction made with citrus oil infused with precious herbs and roots at the Padua International Fair. Called Aperol in homage to a colloquial French term for the aperitif, a century later the Aperol Spritz, made by adding prosecco and soda water to the spirit, has become an international sensation, with the New York Times reporting in 2018 that sales in the U.S. rose 48% in a single year.
Colourful, refreshing and easy to drink, with the conviviality of a champagne cocktail and a distinctly Italian flair, it’s the essence of the effortless elegance Italians call sprezzatura, in a glass. Though once a rare sight outside of Venice or the Italian Riviera, the Aperol Spritz can now be seen in the hands of stylish young things from coast to coast, leading some bars to literally keep it on tap. In Italy the spritz had long been a popular aperitivo with the exact ingredients varying by region, Aperol not always among them. The modern spritz can be traced back to 19th-century Hapsburg-occupied northern Italy “when Austrian soldiers introduced the practice of adding a spritz (spray) of water to the region’s wines, in an effort to make them more pleasing to their Riesling-weaned palates,” noted Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau in their 2016 book Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, With Recipes. “The drink went through a number of iterations, first with the inclusion of soda water at the turn of the 19th century, then the addition of the all-important bitter element (which made it both undeniably Italian and a proper cocktail) in the 1920s and early 1930s, and finally the widespread addition of prosecco in the 1990s.”
According to Vito Casoni, who spent 20 years as the marketing director for Aperol, via the book, “prosecco and ice (the latter often absent from the spritz before this) be came part of the spritz equation on the beaches and in the bars around Venice” in the mid-’90s. “The success of this was immediate.”
The Aperol Spritz as we now know it was traditionally favoured in Padua, Aperol’s birthplace, and the Veneto in general, and indeed it might have remained a regional peculiarity had not Aperol cleverly marketed itself as the irreplaceable ingredient in a proper spritz. The exact recipe for Aperol itself remains a closely guarded secret that has not changed in 100 years, while the classic Aperol Spritz evolved into three parts prosecco, two parts Aperol — or equal measures if you prefer — and one part soda. It’s sheer perfection when served in a large wine glass over ice with a slice of orange.
“Aperol’s success in exporting the Spritz all over Italy (and beyond) lies in the genius of translating the spritz culture of the north and the symbolism of the drink as a modem, tangible incarnation of the la dolce vita of the 1950s and 1960s,” according to Baiocchi and Pariseau. Or as Roberto Pasini, author of Guida allo Spritz, put it to them, “a symbol of wealth and prosperity of the urban people” in a glass. Referring to Venice’s culture of the aperitivo and the spritz, “The lifestyle is simple,” Pasini noted. “Drink a lot, but drink well; don’t hurry; and don’t worry about your hangover — people around will understand you.
“More than just the ideal combination of bubbles and bitterness,” Baiocchi and Pariseau add, “the spritz has become a window into understanding not only the evolution of Italian cocktail culture but also the importance of ritual and leisure to Italian identity.” It’s an attractive prospect and easy to see why it caught on with such abandon here. We only wonder that it took so long. Marketing it as more than a cocktail, but a way of life in which ordinary cares are suspended as long as you have a Spritz in your hand, was sheer genius.
Nearly in tandem with the Aperol Spritz, the Negroni, also invented exactly 100 years ago, has become massively popular here. Made with equal parts Campari, gin and vermouth, it shares a similar slice of the color spectrum but is a much more intense tipple. Campari, founded near Milan by Gaspare Campari in 1860, has evolved from a single brand into a spirits empire under the name Campari Group; it now owns Aperol as well as Grand Marnier, SKYY Vodka, Bulldog Gin, Appleton Estate rum, Wild Turkey, and others, and recently opened an impressive new North American HQ in Manhattan; the U.S. is now the largest market in terms of sales.
Campari is stronger and more bitter than Aperol, and though the Aperol Spritz has slowly usurped the Campari Soda in this country at least, the Negroni and the Spritz seem content to rule in tandem. Naren Young, Creative Director of Dante, a historic New York City Italian eatery that’s a sort of temple to both cocktails and a place where spritzes and Negronis are kept on tap, says their similar heritage is part of the appeal. “I think a lot of people in the market just want a little authenticity in their drinks,” he tells Maxim. “It makes sense in this day and age when people are looking back through history and they see a lot of these great brands, and both Campari and Aperol have a really long history,” along with a Fellini-esque sheen of glamour. Campari’s recipe has also been kept secret, for nearly 160 years, and is “guarded more carefully than the Vatican transcripts” according to Food & Wine, which notes that the aperitif didn’t become widely popular until Gaspare’s son Davide hired famous artists of the 1920s and ’30s to to create the brand’s now iconic posters, “using imagery that seemed to suggest that, with one sip, sex, power, and freedom could be yours,” as the authors of Spritz recount.
Before the Negroni’s renaissance, the cocktail — named for Italian aristocrat Count Camillo Negroni, who ordered the very first one a century ago — was a “secret handshake, a sign to bartenders that you knew what you liked, and how to order it,” according to Bon Appétit. And while there now exist endless riffs on the Negroni using all sorts of spirits from bourbon to rum, “For me it’s all about the Campari and that connection to Italy that makes a Negroni,” New York bar veteran Kenneth McCoy told the magazine. “The two are synonymous, like Guinness and Ireland.” Over the course of the summer Aperol will be honouring its centenary with the Aperol Spritz Italian Social Club, a series of experiences popping up at festivals across the country including Governors Ball, Jazz Age Lawn Party, KAABOO Del Mar, BottleRock, Cinespia, and more.
Campari meanwhile has announced a two-year partnership with the New York Film Festival, continuing its tradition of working with cinematic luminaries such as Salma Hayek, Zoe Saldana, and Clive Owen. It also puts on the Campari Red Diaries, a campaign involving renowned international directors and actors, centred around a unique short film. The two anniversaries are equally worth celebrating in our book, either by ordering these iconic aperitivi at your favourite bar or concocting them at home. Both of which we’ll be doing plenty of this summer. ■
BY JARED PAUL STERN
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