Despite the Italian bitter apéritif Aperol enjoying worldwide fame, its orange hue and citrus taste is just one option on the spritz spectrum. Other bittersweet, herbal liqueurs and bitters, both historic and modern, give Italy’s spritz a myriad of botanic flavors and a rainbow of colorings from lemon yellow to leafy green. Just like Aperol, these bitters can be mixed with prosecco and seltz for a refreshing and eye-catching summer drink.
Select, of a pretty raspberry tint, is the bitter apéritif of choice in the northern Italian Veneto region alongside Aperol and Campari. It was born in the region’s capital Venice just after World War I in a moment when, not unlike this summer, the city’s residents were cautiously but optimistically rediscovering life’s pleasures.
The Pilla brothers’ recipe is a carefully guarded secret mix of 30 botanicals. The company has only allowed two to be known, rhubarb root and juniper berries. Select is more bitter and spicy than Aperol, a reflection of Venice’s own long history of spice trading with the Middle East. The resulting Select Spritz is traditionally garnished with a green olive and a picture-postcard canal backdrop.
Another popular amaro, Cynar is made from 13 natural ingredients of which the most prominent is artichoke. It gives the liqueur a deep brown tint and a pungent but sweet flavor. Cynar was first produced in 1952 and quickly became popular thanks to TV publicity starring famous actors. One advert from 1966 features actor Ernesto Calindri savoring the bitter apéritif at a roadside cafè as an antidote to “the strain of modern life”.
Cynar is used in pre-dinner drinks like spritz and negroni, but is also drunk as a postprandial digestif because of its savory artichoke flavor.
Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto
This liqueur in an azure blue bottle is a modern iteration of the nearly forgotten rosolio, once a common tipple for Italy’s royalty and aristocrats. The kingly liqueur also dominated the drinking dens in Milan and Turin long before vermouth and bitters arrived on the scene. But in the late 1700s, King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia ousted the drink from the royal household in favor of vermouth and almost causing the liqueur’s demise.
In 2017, however, Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto came to the rescue and revived the almost lost liqueur. Creator Giuseppe Gallo conceived the new concoction using a combination of a recipe found in a book that dates back to the 1800s and his experience of his own family’s recipes that go back many generations. The modern reinterpretation champions the humble bergamot, a fragrant citrus fruit that grows throughout the Mediterranean. It also mixes cedro from Sicilia, Roman chamomile from Lazio, and melissa balm, lavender, yellow roses and gentian from northern Italy.
Born in Padua, the same city that produced sunny orange Aperol, P31 is a bold green apéritif. It was invented in 2017 by Caffè Pedrocchi, a historic cafè in the northern Italian city still known as the “café without doors” because, until 1916, it remained open all day and night.
The name P31, somewhat reminiscent of a chemical element, derives from ‘P’ for Pedrocchi and 31 referring to the number of natural ingredients included in the bitters and to the opening date of the café in 1831. As the verdant liquid suggests, there is a fresh note of absinthe alongside more than 20 other aromatic herbs including chamomile, lime, ginger and cloves.
Another recently released liqueur, baby pink Ast’up, is the invention of renowned prosecco producer Astoria Wines. The company launched a new Prosecco Rosé in 2020 and accompanied it with a equally rose-tinted liqueur, with the two destined to be joined in matrimony as a Rosé Spritz.
The blushing bitter apéritif has notes of citrus and spice, with a herbal base of absinthe, knapweed and, naturally, a secret mix of infused roots and essential oils. Battling for its space in the market against the array of historic bitters, the company said, “The magic moment of aperitivo, of merriment, of the Italian way of life, today has a new color: pink”.
Diffusing this spritz with a pale yellow hue, limoncello liqueur inspires a particularly summery vibe. Although not made with bitter herbs, the sharpness of the lemon-based liqueur is equally adept at cutting through the sweet prosecco.
The spectacular Amalfi Coast is a prime spot for limoncello production using the locally grown sfusato amalfitano lemon variety. On the Aceto family’s lemon farm, just up the hill from Amalfi’s town center, limoncello production happens directly below the steep terraces of lemon gardens. Luigi Aceto, now 86, recalls when he first began making the liqueur as early as the 40s from the big, knobbly Amalfi lemons.