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Forget Negroni Week. We're Reclaiming Aperol.
The Aperol Spritz isn't the only thing going off the rails. A new anti-garnish movement suggests you may be a terrible person if you garnish your cocktail.
Well, next week comes another Negroni Week. Brace yourselves for all the Negroni fanfare and variations you’ll be seeing in drinks media. Thankfully, I will be traveling out of the country during most of Negroni Week, and will be giving a miss to all of the Mezcal Negronis, Negroni Sbagliatos, and White Negronis that mixologists will be busy riffing on. You can still read my thoughts on the Negroni and its many variations that I wrote last year in the run-up to Negroni Week:
Today, however, I want to talk about what some have called “Campari’s hot sister.” Yes, we’re going to talk about Aperol.
Now, I promise this is not going to be some embarrassing anti-Aperol take, such as the New York Times in 2019 declaring “The Aperol Spritz Is Not a Good Drink.” Yes, that take did not age well, what with the Aperol Spritz’s massive popularity and all.
“On TikTok, the ubiquitous spritz has become less of a recipe and more of an orange-colored canvas, ripe for innovation,” wrote Rachel Sugar in Punch a couple of weeks ago. Sugar specifically notes the trend of replacing soda water with Orange Poppi, the wildly popular prebiotic soda that claims to “refine” your complexion, aid in digestion, lower your cholesterol, promote weight loss, stabilize blood sugar, and “naturally detoxify” (none of which has been backed up by any regulatory body or science). But sure if you want to pretend to be a lil healthy, knock yourself out, add a splash of Orange Poppi to a bright orange, artificially-colored spirit that bartenders not too long ago called “the MSG of cocktails.” Sugar also notes an Aperol Spritz variation she saw on TikTok that calls for a scoop of orange sherbet. “In other words,” she writes, “the Aperol Spritz has gone off the rails.”
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Be that as it may, I am not here to shade the Aperol Spritz. On a sunny, hot afternoon, I like an Aperol Spritz as much as the next guy. I’m more in line philosophically with Maggie Hennessy’s recent excellent piece in VinePair in which she calls the Spritz “the ultimate f*ck it drink.” In fact, Hennessy says her love of spritz was spurred by the Times’ 2019 lame hot take, when “some friends and I went out for a round of Aperol Spritzes in explicit rejection of said hot take.” Hennessy rightly argues that the point of the spritz is that the drink gets better as the ice dilutes it, negating the argument that Aperol is too sweet and cloying. “I understand the argument’s basis as a plea to make spritzes with ‘good’ ingredients,” she writes. “And yet the watering-down part is where the spritz effectively shields itself from takedowns dispensed from on high.”
I know a lot of people who don’t like Aperol. In fact, in our drinks travel guide to Venice (“Venice in Ten Spritzes” coming Thursday for paid subscribers) our local correspondent Gillian Longworth McGuire admits that she is not a fan, and she prefers nearly any other amaro in her spritz.
But I’ve always liked Aperol as a cocktail ingredient. Of course it’s sweet. Of course it’s colored with FD&C Yellow #6 and FD&C Red #40. But just like MSG, it’s a misunderstood ingredient that can add something cool to cocktails beyond just a spritz. I think sometimes people forget how new Aperol is to Americans—it only appeared in the U.S. market in 2006. In 2009, I wrote a column about “new classics” in which a bartender told me, “Aperol is uncharted territory.” Look how far we’ve come as a society, with people drinking Aperol in dive bars, clubs, and poolside with a scoop of sherbet.
In the two recipes that I’ve included below, Intro to Aperol (Aperol, gin, lemon juice, Angostura bitters) and The Colin (reposado tequila, Aperol, celery bitters), the bitters play an important role in balancing the syrupy sweetness. The other thing both of these drinks need is an orange-peel garnish. As I wrote in Boozehound about The Colin, “do not neglect the garnish; a fat orange peel twist is critical for the right aromatics.” However, calling for a garnish these days has suddenly become a dicey subject.
Is ‘No Garnish’ the New Paper Straw?
When Boozehound was published in 2010, who knew that 13 years later, calling for a garnish in a recipe would become…political. In my latest column for Wine Enthusiast, I wrote about the growing anti-garnish backlash:
Do you still garnish your cocktails? Oh, really? You still use citrus peels and cucumber slices and hulled strawberries? For real? Haven’t you heard how wasteful that is? That lime wedge in your gin and tonic may signal that you’re a terrible person who doesn’t care about the environment.
The point of the no-garnish movement is to cut down on food waste, and so its heart is in the right place. But being “vehemently anti-garnish,” as one bartender describes himself, risks “no garnish” being held up to ridicule, or as a greenwashing gimmick, in the same way the soggy paper straws have become seen.
Intro To Aperol
Created by bartending legend Audrey Saunders, this cocktail calls for a crazy amount of Aperol as the primary spirit. But trust me, it’s balanced by the gin, the lemon juice, an the bitters. The original recipe calls for a quarter-ounce of simple syrup. But with two full ounces of Aperol, you really do not need it.
2 ounces Aperol
1 ounces gin
3⁄4 ounces lemon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
Orange peel twist
Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel twist, if you dare.
Created by Philadelphia bartender Colin Shearn at the original Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. Colin and I once appeared on a New Year’s edition of an NPR radio show together. (I’ve renamed this drink from what appears in my book). You could use any tequila, but it’s better with the roundness of reposado and even works with añejo. Be generous with the bitters.
1 ½ ounces reposado tequila
3⁄4 ounce Aperol
3 dashes celery bitters
Orange peel twist
Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously, then strain into a rocks or old-fashioned glass with a large ice cube. Garnish with orange peel twist, if you dare.