What is a Venetian Spritz?
The Spritz Veneziano is Venice’ most famous drink. The recipe is very simple… Prosecco, some bitter – Aperol, Campari, etc, and carbonated water. It is recognized by the IBA and it has an international recipe that should be respected by anybody who would like to add it to their official drink list.
You see it everywhere in Venice and there isn’t a bar in the Serenissima who doesn’t serve it, with a slice of orange, an olive, with Aperol, with Campari, or one of the other internationally less known bitter brands. The Venetians love it, and if you should come by some bar-table outside where a group of Gondoliers has taken refuge, then 9 out of 10 of them would be drinking just that… A Spritz.
Venice as the whole of northern Italy was held by Austria at the beginning of the 19th century. After Napoleon lost at Waterloo in 1815 and the kingdom of France collapsed, the Austrians were given practically the whole Veneto and Lombardy. Officially it was a separate country, the kingdom of Lombardy – Venetia, but in reality, it was controlled by the Austrians and at least partially oppressed by them. Anyway, the Austrians loved to drink wine… Just like the Italians and everybody else too for that matter.
But in Italy, we have more sun than they have in Austria, and the wine is stronger (… I was going to write better, but my sense of humility prevented me.). The Austrian soldiers started diluting the wine with water.
The use of Seltzer, named from the small German village Selters, was very popular in the 19th century. Every bar had a soda siphon/seltzer bottle and with time the Austrians discovered that carbonated water splashed into the wine was better than still water. To splash is called spritzen in German and so the drink had gotten a name.
And the Spritz was born. Not much of a drink you might think, wine and water. Well, I have to agree. Still, some of my friends in Trieste and Padova still insist that the true Spritz is white wine, still, not sparkling, and soda water. I usually tell them, Yes, Ok, the original Spritz may be just like that… But it’s still a lousy Spritz.
Well, fortunately enough the Venetians took it to new levels, They introduced Select, a Venetian bitter invented by the company Fratelli Pilla & Co at Castello, in 1920. It was a completely new ingredient to the beverage and with it, the Spritz was almost ready for the big public.
My friends in Padova would intervene and say: “Hey, We were the first ones because we invented Aperol already in 1919. True, the famous Aperol was invented and marketed already the year before. In fact, the traditional Spritz in Padova is done with Aperol while the Venetians do it with Select. Anyway, it was in those years the recipe became what it is today… Such as, you may ask…? What is the traditional recipe?
This is the normal Venetian way to do a Spritz:
1/3 Sparkling water
1/3 Bitter of some sort
Instead of Prosecco, you could use any other Italian white wine with bubbles. Normally it’s more expensive with Prosecco and that fact could be specified on the drink-list:
- A Spritz Veneziano made with Prosecco costs this.,
- A Spritz made with some other wine costs something else.
Anyway, it’s as easy as that. Or, it may not be as easy as that. The small variations and tricks are infinite.
Then you have all the special secrets that only the Bar-men know… Which ingredient goes first, which goes last, and which goes in the middle. If it’s shaken or stirred. Actually, it shouldn’t be nor shaken, nor stirred, just mixed.
Often it’s served with a slice of orange, and that is perfect with a Spritz – Aperol since Aperol is made with bitter orange as a prominent ingredient. It’s also orange in color. With Campari, the decoration is often an olive. The drink should be topped with a few ice cubes to make it cool and fresh in the summer heat. Not too many though, and in winter they should be omitted altogether. Otherwise, the Spritz will be too weak and diluted. The ice doesn’t last very long sitting outside in the Venetian tropical humidity anyway, so you should be drinking rather than sipping.
It can be served with a slice of lemon. That’s regarded as unorthodox but, as said before, the drink has been around for 200 years and the variants are many.
Ok, let’s look at the various drinks that have Spritz as the bottom line but have been evolved…
First of all: The recipe of the Spritz Veneziano documented by the IBA (international bartenders association, for those of you who didn’t know that…) is as follows:
- 2 oz Prosecco
- 1½ oz Aperol (..or some other bitter)
- Soda water, enough to get the correct mix.
Then there is the Hugo
- 2 oz sparkling wine
- 1 ½ oz Saint German
- 1 ½ oz Soda water
- 4 mint leaves
Then there is The Madame
- 2 oz sparkling wine
- ¾ oz Campari
- ¾ oz Cointreau
- 1 ½ oz Soda water
- With this drink a slice of orange is the correct decoration.
- Just take Midori instead of Aperol…
- And a slice of orange
- 2 oz Sparkling wine
- 1 ½ oz white Vermouth
- 1 ½ oz Ginger Ale
- Ginger too should be served with a slice of orange
Il Pirlo (the halfwit) is a typical drink from Brescia some 100 miles west.
- ⅓ Still Wine
- ⅓ Campari
- ⅓ Soda water
- Decorated with slices of orange.
And many, many others…
Disagreements about the making of the Spritz Veneziano.
Just like my friends in Padova and Treviso, there is a line of experts who vividly argue that the true Spritz Veneziano is made with still white wine, not sparkling. And that is actually how the Brescian Pirlo is mixed. It’s more or less a normal Spritz but with still wine.
If you research the true origin of something or the true meaning of a concept, very often you would have to search in the periphery of the area where it was born. Not in the center.
If that’s the case with the Venetian Spritz, then maybe the closest to the origin you will find in Padova, Trieste, and Brescia… And they use still white wine. Even in Venice, if you get away from the tourist areas, some bars will serve the Spritz with still wine… Or you could just ask the barman.
Something about the bitters in a Spritz Veneziano.
If you want to drink it in Venice like the Venetians, then maybe Select is the way to go. Aperol is for those in Padova, Campari is a more international flavor, but Select is Venetian. On the other hand, even the Venetians have an alternative. A Bitter that I and many with me prefer to Select
And the alternative is called Cynar. It’s a Bitter that is a little more bitter and less sweet than Select. It also has a darker, brownish color. It gives the drink a more masculine touch, and it makes you, yourself look just a little bit more genuine in the eyes of the bartender.
The normal tourist wouldn’t know about these local flavors, so he will regard you as something more than just a walking credit card. Please try it out. You should try them all anyway and make up your own mind.
Aperol is very marketed in the USA. It’s a major brand, as is Campari. And Campari is actually the owner of Aperol, so they don’t really compete in the same market. They collaborate. Select is produced by Montenegro though… And Cynar? Well, they’re also Campari, so it’s kind of monopolized.
When is the best time for a Spritz?
It’s like the old publicity for the beer Tuborg: Two vagrants meet at the corner of the street. One says to the other: Hey, Perikles… Can you tell me, when does a Tuborg taste the best? The other answers: … Every time.
A Spritz is an all-day drink. You can sit down at the bar before lunch, preferably outside, order a Spritz and have some peanuts with it.
You can have it at the bar before the theater, or after the theater. It’s a bit like a coffee, it’s something to offer your friends without any presumptions or big deals. If someone helped you out, you can offer a spritz.
If you invite to the exclusive Enoteca it may mean something more, and the other may have to return the kindness somehow. But a Spritz at the bar doesn’t really require anything. It’s neutral.
One word of advice though. You don’t taste the alcohol. The fragrance of bitter and the sparkling water make it seem like a lemonade. But it’s not. So go easy.
And in Venice they don’t say Spritz like Sprits, they say Spriss without the t. Like everything else, they have their own way of doing things.