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In the last twenty years or so we have certainly become more cosmopolitan in our drinking habits in the UK. When I was just starting to go to pubs wine was something that was drunk on holiday, at home or in wine bars, but never in the pub. In the continental way, you can even order a coffee in some pubs without raising a single eyebrow among the staff. We are definitely becoming more like our friends in mainland Europe, but there is one area of the drinks menu where we differ: aperitifs and digestifs.
In Slovenia when you go into a bar on each table there'll be a laminated card listing the prices of the drinks available and that list includes lots of names you see in most bars across Europe, except for the UK; you may find some of these in a select few establishments in Britain, but mostly these are drinks that you see only on your hols.
Recently on my travels I've noticed that Aperol seems to be enjoying a period of increased popularity. It's an Italian digestif that was originally made by a Padua based company. Today it's owned by the Campari group, and actually Campari is the closest drink I can think of to explain what Aperol is like, though Campari is considerably more alcoholic. According to the Campari company, the main markets for Aperol are Italy, Germany and Austria. Aperol has been in the public eye a bit more since 2010 when it was adopted as an official brand of the Moto GP. In Italy you'll see old men drinking Aperol in village bars but there has been a major campaign to promote Aperol as a fashionable brand and a premium product.
Although I'd seen Aperol up on the shelves behind many a bar I didn't know much about it and it was not until I saw lots of people drinking something unknown to me that I learned what it is. I noticed people in Italy, Austria and Slovenia drinking a slightly sparkling, bright orange drink during the summer; then I saw the waiter making up the drink with Aperol and soda water and the penny dropped. You can drink this in a short measure over ice but it is best enjoyed as a spritzer. In Italy Aperol is often mixed with Prosecco, in Slovenia they use Srbra Penina, a sparkling wine from the Slovenske Gorice. If you are having a party and thinking of serving bucks fizz or some other sparkling cocktail, then consider mixing cava or other good but cheap fizz with Aperol: it really looks the business and certainly the first time I saw drinking in at a cafe on an Italian piazza, I was immediately struck by how appealing it looked.
Aperol has been around since 1919 and while the packaging has been frequently re-designed to renew its appeal with younger drinkers and therefore to keep bringing new customers, the recipe remains unchanged. It's one of those liqueurs like Galliano or Jagermeister that has a closely guarded recipe, though many of it's components are well known. The main flavour is bitter orange and this is skilfully combined with a range of botanicals such as gentian and cinchona among a whole host of herbs and roots. It also contains rhubarb (not an ingredient I would necessarily associate with Italy). The rhubarb flavour is not as pronounced as the orange but it is quite recognisable and actually the two sit well together. There's a danger that the bitter orange and the tart rhubarb could clash but a slight sweetness and the warmth of the herbs seem to soften the combination.
An Aperol spritz makes a great summer drink because it is so refreshing and because it has a fairly low alcohol content. It's a drink you can have with lunch on a summer's day and not feel like you need to sleep it off afterwards. Even when served simply on the rocks with an essential twist of orange peel, you get all the nuances of the unique flavour without the harsh alcohol hit of Campari. It would be wrong to refer, as it commonly done, to Aperol as Campari-lite; while there are some similiarities (certainly they are both quite bitter and dominated by that bitter orange note), I do feel that Aperol can be distinguished tastewise from its better known stable-mate. If you've ever tried Kinnie, that bitter orange and herbal soft drink from Malta, you might detect a similarity with Aperol.
The space above our kitchen wall cupboards is crammed with liquers and spirits from our travels. Some have been well depleted, others have languished there with only one or two small servings taken from the bottle. Often the drinks we enjoy when abroad when we are in open minded relaxed mode are not as tasty when we get home but Aperol is not one of them. We picked up a bottle at Graz Airport and opened it at home as the first opportunity. I was relived to find I enjoyed it as much as I had when in Austria.
What I particularly like is that the low alcohol content makes Aperol a useful ingredient for cocktails because you can mix it with stronger spirits such as gin or vodka without making overly alcoholic drinks, and without losing that distinct Aperol flavour.When making margaritas Aperol is a good alternative to Cointreau or triple sec and can actualy be successfull used as a triple sec substitute in any cocktail. The classic cocktail the Negroni which is made with Campari, is now frequently made with Aperol instead and I can personally vouch for the delicious flavour of bourbon with a splash of Aperol, which creates a really warm, richly layered and slightly medicinal tipple. Last winter when I wanted to make mulled wine but had no oranges at hand, I used a good slug of Aperol which provided the oily tang of the orange zest. Although it's most commonly seen being drunk in summer on the continent, I do think that the flavours have a rather Christmassy appeal too.
The main markets may be Italy, Germany and Austria but Aperol is easy to buy in the UK. It's sold in 70cl bottles and is priced around £12.00 - £14.00 depending on retailer. At the time of writing the drinkshop.com are selling it at £12.64, reduced from £13.95.
I highly recommend Aperol as a good drinks cabinet component. It's versatile, great for long refreshing drinks and a useful ingredient for a range of cocktails. When I've given Aperol to friends to taste they tend to really like it; it's certainly not one of those drinks that are an acquired taste, it's one that seems to appeal universally once tried.
I first discovered Aperol when we lived in Graz in Austria a couple of years ago. Over the summer time I used to notice that just about everyone was drinking these sunny, bright orange aperitifs whilst sat outside a café or a bar enjoying the sunshine. I quickly discovered that it was an Aperol Spritz, and on tasting it discovered that it was absolutely ''fan 'freakin' tastic'' and absolutely delicious. Aperol Spritz was hugely popular in Graz, it was available absolutely everywhere; cafés, bars, restaurants, pubs, and beer gardens etc. Aperol Spritz was definitely 'the' summer drink to order in Graz.
Aperol Spritz is a traditional Italian aperitif - in fact it's the perfect aperitif! Aperol has a slightly bitter, yet a slightly sweet, fruity orange flavour. Just mix it with some bubbly Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) and a splash of soda water, and you have a fantastic, light and refreshing summer cocktail. Really simple, and yet decidedly delicious. Festive, and yet fruity. You could also make a spritz with Campari instead of the Aperol, which would make a for a more bitter, bright red spritz. I'm not too keen on Campari, it's much too bitter for me, I much prefer Aperol. Aperol is much fruitier and lighter than Campari.
The traditional Aperol Spritz recipe is comprised of: 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, 1 splash of soda water, ice, and half a slice of orange. Pop the ice and the orange slice into your glass, add the Aperol, then the bubbly Prosecco, finally top up with just a splash of soda water - you don't want to add too much soda water as this just dilutes and weakens your Aperol Spritz.
There's no mistaking Aperol, it's bright orange in colour, and it has a unique taste thanks to the secret recipe which has remained unchanged since its creation in Padua in Italy in 1919. The unique flavour and unmistakable vibrant orange hue come from subtle blending and balancing of bitter and sweet ingredients. An exotic infusion of various fruits and peels including three types of orange including bitter and sweet oranges, grapefruit and hints of rhubarb with an array of herbs, roots and spices like gentian and cinchona. Aperol has a low alcohol content of only 11%. Interestingly though Aperol for sale in Germany has an alcohol content of 15% to enable it to get around the refundable bottle deposit system.
Aperol lends itself well to many cocktails; specifically orange based ones, but it also works really well with grapefruit or cranberry as well. If you want to give Aperol an extra 'kick' then vodka works well in Aperol cocktails as it doesn't overpower the taste of the Aperol at all. You can also make a version of an Aperol Spritz using white wine rather than Prosecco, it will actually taste fairly similar but it will just be a 'flatter' tasting drink as it doesn't have the sparkling wine in the drink. You could also use a cheaper version of sparkling white wine rather than the Prosecco if you wanted to as well.
I personally just like Aperol in it's classic form - as an Aperol Spritz, and my preference is always to make it with Prosecco.
Aperol's unique flavour and colour is achieved through a subtle blend of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and an array of herbs and roots - using a secret recipe that has been unchanged since its first creation in 1919. Aperol was launched by the Barbieri company, based in Padua, in 1919 on the occasion of the Padua Exhibition - introducing the revolutionary idea of an aperitif with an alcohol content of only 11%. After the second world war, it really took off, becoming a major success in Italian homes and bars. In the early nineties, the Barbieri company was acquired by Barbero in 1891 and Aperol has developed even further. Today it is enjoyed by over 3.4 million Italians and is available in every bar and main food retailer in the country.