As if moved to do so by some subliminal suggestion from within my subconscious (perhaps the hedonistic, expensively-robed bastard with a cigarette holder who lives, repressed, in the decadent backdrop of my psyche), I was unable to counter the urge to stock up on some cool, late-summer spirits today; particularly of the foreign variety. Campari Italian liqueur sat almost glistening on the shelf, thanks to the recessed lighting of the liquor store (its luminescent quality was made stranger by the hail pounding the street outside, piling mounds of ice that fell so quickly they gave the impression of a strange, late summer snow). I knew I’d found my concoction.
In addition to its unique flavor served by itself (though the stinging bitterness of the herbs used in its creation tend to warrant ice, orange, or even soda water), Campari is a unique aperitif that doubles as (you might have guessed) a bitter for a variety of fine Italian cocktails. One such favorite is the Venetian Spritz.
This beverage, which in its native home is called “ombra” or simply a “spreetz”, is the reigning favorite of the afternoon aperitivo break, where a fine cocktail is a welcome precursor to dinner that soon follows. A variety of ways to make the Venetian Spritz exist, typically calling for a glass of prosecco (a dry sparkling wine similar to champagne) a dash of sparkling water, topped with Aperol over ice. Though the drink is renowned for having less “kick” than most cocktails, the Aperol can be substituted with Campari, which has a bit more alcoholic content by volume (and since the two liqueurs have similar flavors, both now manufactured by the Campari company).
T’s spirits columnist and New York times guest-blogger Toby Cecchinia recently did a piece on the Venetian Spritz, and noted the unusual use of a single green olive in conjunction with a twist of lemon and/or an orange slice. Of this, he mentions that “The history of this drink is murky and disputed, possibly involving Austro-Hungarian occupiers in the 18th century. Is it they who put the olive in there? No one seems to know for certain.” It does seem rather strange, but it nonetheless provides for a wonderful example of the fine Italian offerings that muddle the late summer evenings. With such drinks gaining popularity here in the states, you can expect to see the Venetian Spritz listed alongside many of your favorite cocktails in the near future; unless you’ve already become an afficianado, to which we toast to you, oh keeper of clandestine cocktails.