Spritzes are my favorite kind of drink - complex flavors, endless options, bubbles, and low alcohol. While they’re an obvious summer sipper, the often herbal flavors work year round. And no, these are not the wine spritzers of the 80’s, these are elegant, full of flavor, and yes, a bit bitter.
The Basic Recipe
2 oz bitter liqueur like Aperol
3-4 oz sparkling wine, prosecco is perfect
2 oz soda water
An Aperol Spritz is one of the most famous, but there are a number of bitter liqueurs you could try instead, many of which still have a similar bright orange or red color, but are often a little less sweet. Personally I love the classic with a few dashes of Cardamom bitters, cardamom and the bitter orange of Aperol are beautiful together.
A Few Liqueurs to Try
Aperol, Campari, and Cappelletti are the most famous bitter aperitivo used in spritzes. They are hard to miss because of their bright orange and red colors, but they do have varying levels of sweetness and bitterness. Aperol is on the sweeter, less bitter side, with Cappelletti in the middle, and Campari on the dry, bitter, and also slightly more alcoholic side. All of them have similar citrus (orange and grapefruit) flavors, paired with bitter herbs and maybe even a little rhubarb, especially in Aperol’s case.
However, when making a spritz almost any bitter aperitivo liqueur will work and there are also a handful of French ones to track down. A personal favorite is Lillet Blanc. It is definitely on the sweeter side, but has a lovely herbal quality that works great with fresh citrus. Try making a Mrs. the next time you’re looking for something to sip while making dinner. Lillet Rose has a lovely rose color and enticing berry flavors.
And a few more you might want to try:
Suze - Herbaceous with a less astringent bitterness than some, this French liqueur is a great place to start.
Salers - a light, very bitter gentian liqueur that works as a great spritz base especially if you're using a sweeter Prosecco.
Punt e Mes - more like a vermouth or amaro this darker liqueur makes a richer spritz.
Cocchi Americano - A more bitter, less sweet version of Lillet Blanc, but just as easy drinking.
Vermouth and Sherry also make for great bases in a spritz and can also be combined quite nicely with the bitter liqueurs to add a little extra depth of flavor.
And don’t forget Amari, traditionally these bitter herbal Italian liqueurs are served at the end of a meal and sipped as is, but they can make for a darker, richer take on a spritz. Although do check the proof, many Amari come in at 70 proof or over, so if you’re looking for a low alcohol drink, you need to cut back to an ounce or less. Averna is my favorite, it’s on the sweeter side, but super versatile and goes quite well with citrus.
Another way to pack some punch into a spritz is to add just 1 or ½ ounce of full proof spirits like gin or bourbon with a teaspoon or two of flavored simple syrup. Check out this post on growing herbs for cocktails for a quick primer on making herb simple syrups. I’ve also included recipes for two of my favorite syrups - Grapefruit Thyme and Rhubarb Ginger.
You can also combine full proof spirits and any of the bitter liqueurs above. Try a ¼ ounce of spirit and an ounce of low proof liqueur, vermouth, or sherry. Tequila and dry vermouth make a nice pair as do sherry and bourbon.
Grapefruit Thyme Syrup
½ cup sugar
½ cup grapefruit juice
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a bare simmer cook at least till sugar is dissolved, but I like to simmer beyond that for another 10-15 minutes to get lots of thyme flavor.
Remove from heat and pull out sprigs of thyme, you may want to strain if any leaves fall off. Cool before using. You can store syrup in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a month.
Rhubarb Ginger Syrup
(You can only make this in the spring when rhubarb is in season, unless you’re lucky enough to find frozen rhubarb in a store near you.)
2-3 stalks of rhubarb
3-4 inch piece of ginger
1-2 cups water
~1 cup of sugar
Cut the rhubarb into 1 inch pieces and the ginger into ½ inch slices. Place in a small pot and barely cover with water. Cook over medium heat until the rhubarb turns to mush and the ginger has infused its flavor. About 15 minutes should do it, but taste and if you want more ginger you can simmer longer.
Strain off liquid through a mesh strainer, you should have about a cup of liquid, but it’s fine to work with whatever amount you get. Discard rhubarb and ginger, then place the liquid back in the empty saucepan and add an equal amount of sugar, about a cup if you got the expected yield. Cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Cool before using and store remaining syrup in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a month.
Bitters In A Spritz?
Most spritz recipes don't call for bitters, but as you can guess I think you can add bitters to almost any drink. A few dashes of bitters brings balance to any drink, even those that already tend toward the bitter. Surprisingly, a few dashes of bitters can also mellow out a drink that tastes too bitter. You'll find that all my spritz recipes call for at least a few dashes of bitters, but try adding some even when they're not called for.
A Few of My Favorite Spritzes
Think of this recipe as a blank slate. It will work with any vermouth you love to sip on and you can swap out any flavor of bitters that you think will compliment the vermouth. You should also adjust the sparkling water to your taste, equal parts is just a starting point.
2 oz sweet vermouth (Dolin Rouge is a great place to start)
2 oz sparkling water
4 dashes The Bitter Housewife Orange Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a glass with ice and give a gentle stir to mix.
Averna is one of my go-to amaros, especially for drinking on it's own. The addition of grapefruit bitters to this simple spritz changes everything. Taste it for yourself.
2 oz Averna
3 oz soda water
3-4 dashes The Bitter Housewife Grapefruit Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a highball glass with ice, stir gently to mix, and garnish with grapefruit twist.
Here the "bitter liqueur" is replaced with a combo of Campari and sweet vermouth, also both bitter.
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
3 oz prosecco
4-6 dashes The Bitter Housewife Orange Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange.
A lighter, less sweet version of an Aperol Spritz that is great for brunch.
1 oz Aperol
1.5 oz grapefruit juice
2 oz prosecco
2 oz soda water
4-6 dashes The Bitter Housewife Grapefruit Bitters
Combine all ingredients, except soda, in a collins glass, and stir gently to mix. Then fill the glass with ice, top with soda water and garnish with a twist of grapefruit.
A perfect balance of crisp cava, spicy ginger, and rich sherry all brightened up with a few dashes of grapefruit bitters.
1.5 oz Fino sherry
1 oz Ginger syrup*
3 oz Cava
4-6 dashes The Bitter Housewife Grapefruit Bitters
Add sherry, syrup, and bitters to a wine glass, stir to mix. Fill glass with ice, top with Cava, and give a gentle stir to mix. Garnish with a grapefruit slice.
* If you'd like to make your own ginger syrup, simmer 1/2 cup of sliced fresh ginger, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes. Make sure all sugar is fully dissolved. Let cool before using. The syrup will keep in the fridge for about a month.
You can also check out our recipe section for a few more spritz ideas.