Birthed in the land of the Negroni, the sunset-hued and Instagrammable Aperol spritz has been eagerly embraced by Americans thanks to ad campaigns and social media. But familiarity often breeds contempt, or at least indifference.
Despite the Internet outrage following a New York Times article proclaiming the combination of lightly bitter Aperol, Prosecco and sparkling water as “not a good drink,” it’s clear that that the spritz is here to stay. Aperol isn’t obligatory and other amaros, or amari — bitter liqueurs made with barks and roots, herbs, spices and flowers — are perfectly happy to volunteer their services. Amari alone can be an acquired taste, but as a cocktail cast member, they’re useful.
To prove the point, we stirred up some Aperol-adjacent alternatives. Yes, you may need to buy a bottle or two of something unfamiliar, but the drink-making process is simple. Here’s how it goes: First, fill a wine glass with ice. Next, add three ounces of bubbles, two of amaro and top it all with the ounce of fizzy water. For bubbles, use Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava. For fizzy water, look to Topo Chico or soda brands like Schweppes. No need to give the drink more than a perfunctory swirl. Drop in a thin slice of orange or lime. Add a sprig of mint if feeling frisky.
Here are the versions we tried:
Bruto Americano //
Made by St. George, a California distiller famed for gin, the Bruto wins the beauty contest, but the drink was unabashedly barky with a bitter medicinal quality not for the faint of heart. Use an orange slice to complement the California-grown Seville oranges that are part of the mix.
Alone, this wine-based aperitif is the opposite of a Bruto. Tasters found it syrupy, only slightly bitter, and with flavors and aromas of cinnamon, tangerine and cola. The aperitif can be chilled and served on its own, or you can skip the sparkling wine and add a splash of soda.
This Italian liqueur is said to contain 13 herbs, but artichoke is its calling card. A solo sip proves only moderately bitter with no real spikes of flavor. The group called it “balanced” and “pleasant” in the spritz, not necessarily faint praise. We suggest it for newbies.
Bigallet China-China //
The spritz using this French “amer” was our second favorite. Orange, both bitter and sweet, is front and center, but clove and cinchona bark give a root beer quality — in a good way. Unfortunately, while many amaros are reasonably priced, this isn’t one of them.
This Sicilian-made amaro was the group favorite — a little unfair as the flavors are perhaps the closest to Aperol. Averna is mid-bitter, a little sweeter and herbal (think juniper and anise). We liked its deepness of flavor, an asset when mixing with two, less aggressive components.
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