Why Aperol Spritz Is Having a Moment… Again

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Why Aperol Spritz Is Having a Moment… Again

Come summer, the impulse of the season is to venture beyond the backyard. The allure is outdoor life, the sea, sunbathing and an irresistible urge to travel. For some, it offers an opportunity to grab a quick brunch on the streets outside of bars and restaurants. Gorgeous clear skies, bustling sidewalk cafes and the occasional breeze—what’s not to love? There’s only one more thing that is an absolute must: the ubiquitous presence of a light wine-based cocktail to top it off.

Aperol Spritz, a cocktail hailing from Northeast Italy, is a timeless favorite of this genre. It can be made with still or sparkling Prosecco or with Champagne or Cava for a more festive touch. Tradition calls for a modest serving of three parts Cinzano Prosecco (dry), two parts Aperol and one part soda. It’s not served up in glasses that boast a logo or use olives for garnish.

Mixologists and bartenders more often than not recommend a textbook replication of this recipe for a well-made spritz—no orange syrup required. So, how did this native drink from a small commune west of Venice become a mainstream sensation? How has this timeless classic been translated for the post-pandemic world?

From its debut on the international cocktail stage to its transformation from an aperitivo to a bottled supermarket favorite, here’s how this drink from the Veneto region found beverage industry giant Campari—and how a peculiar bitter is redefining the concept of happy hour for an entire generation.

A Shift in Drinking Culture

“More people in and around Europe are making a pivot to lighter drinks due to the increasing value of health,” Jason Slark, wine steward of Bar El Borrachero in Venice, says. Originally from the city of Padua, Slark came to the city of canals with a deep understanding of aperitivo culture and—after experiencing the lack of authentic spritz in the metropolitan bars—launched his own tavern workshop and tour to educate visitors.

“There were two major influences that pushed Aperol Spritz to the top: a rising consumer trend of ‘light’ drinks for social engagements and pro-natural young adults who want to stray away from artificial agents.”

He believes that more people are coming to hard spirits later and drinking less of them. “They’re no longer looking for a martini served straight up or Jägermeister shots but cultural, mild and mindful recipes to add to their experience.”

Slark says the likeability of Aperol predates the modern ultra-low alcohol era. In the past decade, more people have steadily reduced their spending on spirits. In 2008, after the global financial crisis, the number of people going out to pubs and restaurants or ordering a drink to go with their food declined sharply. While this may have been a sensible and healthy approach for consumers, for spirit producers like Gruppo Campari, this consumer trend became a threat to their business—but not without a silver lining.

As the story goes, in 2003, Campari acquired Aperol—a Portland-orange liquor invented in 1919 by the Barbieri brothers in Padova—with a promise to preserve the original recipe.

Campari’s effort in producing major adverts during the early 2000s pushed the drink beyond Italy’s happy hours into the international market. Soon, it would make its way to events like the Governor’s Ball where this bittersweet aperitif recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2019. Well-executed marketing campaigns such as the “Summer of Spritz” sampling tours became an ideal representation of escapism and promoted it as a “fun aperitivo” perfect for early-evening social gatherings.

NOLO Is the New YOLO

The simmering rise of Aperol spritz since the early 2000s became a trade secret for the bars that understood the potential virality of this drink. In 2004, Aperol announced 40% overall growth in sales, confirming the fact that this spritz is anything but a fleeting success story.

“A bunch of ardent connoisseurs, including the NYT, called this drink an omnipresent internet trend bound to die just as quickly as it started. The pandemic was supposed to be the final nail in the coffin,” says David Den, a viticulturist and distiller in NYC. “But with wellbeing on the forefront of our consciousness [and] a desperate itch to soak [up] the sun, Aperol found itself hitting the sweet spot (again)—a well-priced drink that can keep up with the long conversations without the glitter and over-the-top intoxication.”

According to the Drinks Retailing Buyer’s Guide to Mindful Drinking 2020, NOLO drinks (no or low alcohol drinks) observed a 20% rise in sales. In 2021, the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis found a 17% rise in sales in the UK alone. Even with bars shutting down all across the world, unlike many major liquor players, Aperol made a pivot to pre-mixed cocktails, launching a bottled version of this bitter orange rhubarb aperitivo to compete in a rapidly expanding category.

“[The Aperol] is the drink of now, and it will continue to chime in every conversation we have about beverages for at least the next decade,” Den says. “We choose [it] not because it’s a popular drink [but] because it represents a liberal, flexible, empathetic and affordable culture that is trying to do it right, which is a good sign.”

And though we have embraced experimenting with TikTok cocktails during our quarantine days and there’s a renewed interest in learning about beverages after the home mixology movement, the Aperol spritz seems to be shimmering in the spotlight of a hopefully Covid-relaxed summer.

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