It was recently brought to my attention that Aperol just turned 100. Perhaps you, like me, don’t go out of your way to celebrate the birthday of a beverage. But as it’s finally hitting 75 degrees at my house today after an unusually rainy spring, I was just thinking “Hey, Aperol Spritz weather.” So there’s that.
If bright-orange Aperol is on your list of “intriguing spirits of mysterious provenance that I might want to know more about” you’re probably in good company. A herbaceous bittersweet Italian aperitif (indeed the name Aperol is derived from “apero,” the French term for aperitif) from Padua, it’s on the storied list of European spirits with jealously guarded secret recipes. We know it’s flavored with orange and mandarin, rhubarb, gentian and cinchona-I don’t know the extent of what we don’t know. Related to, but less aggressive and less challenging than, Campari, Aperol is commonly enjoyed with soda and/or Prosecco (the Aperol Spritz kept me alive through a steamy-humid writer’s residency in Connecticut once, I owe it a debt). The Aperol Spritz is probably the definitive aperitif of Italy’s Veneto region, but it’s consumed widely everywhere, and for good reason. Like other spirits that feature the tang of citrus oils and (or) the bite of quinine, Aperol is a great friend for a hot day, cooling, apatite-stimulating, and low in overall alcohol so it won’t easily go from refreshing to sucker-punching if you’re sweating a little. It’s a gregarious sort of beverage that begs to be shared with people you enjoy on a sunny afternoon.
You are by no means confined to the Spritz with this stuff. Drink it neat! Why not? If you don’t have Prosecco but you do have soda water (or geez, a tangerine Lacroix, why not?), go for it. This is not an exacting, demanding spirit, it will flex. For that matter, if your kid drank all your tangerine Lacroix but your stash of sparkling wine was left untouched, it really doesn’t have to be Prosecco. Aperol is a tasty companion to any bubbly you’d cocktail-ize, so if you need a reason to uncork some Champagne or Cava or Franciacorta or whatever you call what comes out of California and Oregon, go for it. If you like the idea of Negronis but the reality of them leaves you feeling a little… I don’t know, called out by your cocktail? Try ditching loudmouth Campari for mild-mannered Aperol and replace the vermouth with Lillet Blanc. And if keeping it low alcohol is not your main goal, there is no reason not to mix the stuff with any citrus-loving spirit, such as gin, or good vodka. Or hey: Bourbon, which you probably weren’t thinking of as a star of your warm-weather cocktail lineup, but that stuff loves a little bitter orange.
The upshot? Aperol is easy. It looks and tastes like a sunset. It’s not like cranky-pants Fernet Branca or what’choo lookin’ at Campari or gauntlet-throwing Pernod or freaky-deaky Cynar. It’s soft-spoken and easy to get along with and it’s not here to ruffle your feathers at all. It’s here to inflect a warm afternoon with drinkable sunshine and make you realize you’re pretty much ready for dinner, and it pairs with more of your bar ingredients than not. So go nutsy. They’ve been making this stuff for a century for a reason.