Meet The Select Spritz—One Of The Most Refreshing Cocktails Ever Created

The classic endures while a beguiling new cocktail book pushes the boundaries of what a spritz can be.

Courtesy Select Aperitivo / Gruppo Montenegro

When summer rolls around we find ourselves anxiously checking our bar shelves to be sure we’re well supplied with bitter aperitifs, the building blocks of the traditional spritz, one of the most refreshing cocktails ever created.

Most people have heard of Aperol and Campari, while true connoisseurs opt for Select, a Venetian original dating to 1920. And adventurous types are even looking a little farther afield and discovering some true gems in the realm of amaro, the vividly hued, bittersweet herbal liqueur perfected by the Italians more than a century ago, but no longer their sole remit.

Photo: Erin & Steven Berrebi / @erinandsteven

All of which made our day that much brighter upon the arrival of Spritz Cocktails, a beguiling new book due out from Ryland Peters & Small in June featuring 35 recipes, with images by our favorite spirits photographer, Alex Luck. As the sheer number of offerings might divulge, the spritz has evolved beyond bitter amari in recent years.

“Originating from Northern Italy, these fizzy concoctions typically combine sparkling wine, such as prosecco, with a bitter Italian ‘amaro’ such as Aperol and Campari”—the clear favorites in Milan, Italy’s fashion capital, where Campari has been made since 1860—“finished off with a splash of soda water and served long over ice,” the authors write. “The result is a drink that effortlessly combines effervescence, bitterness and zestiness in each delicious sip.”

Photo: Erin & Steven Berrebi / @erinandsteven

Travel to Venice however and you’ll notice all the locals eschew Aperol in favor of Select, which has a captivating flavor profile somewhere between Aperol and Campari on the sweet/bitter spectrum, making it the perfectly balanced spirit for everything from a spritz to an Americano. With less ubiquitous marketing Select also connotes the sipper as someone of taste and discernment, not content to merely follow the herd. “If you want to ingratiate yourself with someone behind a bar in Venice, ask them for a Select Spritz,” is how Italy-based cookbook author and expert Katie Parla puts it. “Drink like a local.”

A toast among friends at the glamorous Principe Bar at Milan’s storied Principe di Savoia (Courtesy Principe di Savoia)

The resounding popularity of Select and its adjacents, which tend toward lower alcohol content, as Spritz Cocktails concludes, has led mixologists to “put their own spin on this style of cocktail, experimenting with different variations from tangy citrus-based spritzes to fruity and floral combinations, and from refreshing herbal concoctions to enticing twists on classic cocktails, creating an endless array of options to suit every taste preference.”

Image: Alex Luck / Courtesy Ryland Peters & Small

In addition to the classic amaro formula, they proffer recipes featuring everything from Italicus, a bergamot-flavored aperitivo from Italy, to Dubonnet, Pimm’s, St-Germain, Sicilian gin, Cointreau, limoncello, rosé, and rum. Many of these can be found in the “Experimental” section of the book, which really pushes the boundaries of what a spritz can be. A premonition of the same sentiment can be found in the seminal book Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, an instant classic published by Ten Speed Press in 2016.

Courtesy The St. Regis Venice

As authors Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau noted in the text, “The Italian word sprezzatura doesn’t have an English translation. Coined in the early 16th century by Renaissance author Baldassare Castiglione in his ‘Book of the Courtier’, sprezzatura implied the sort of effortless grace that royal attendants of that gilded era embodied. For Castiglione, sprezzatura was a definitive pillar of true art—to work so hard at something that its beauty, to the beholder, appeared easy, agile, blithe. It was, in essence, the art of concealing art’s design.”

Courtesy Campari

Today, they note, “the word has taken on a more colloquial meaning. It’s often tossed around in menswear publications in reference to details of rakish sophistication—imperfectly folded pocket squares, oxfords worn without socks, the perfect five o’clock stubble. Although the spritz and sprezzatura are not officially related, it’s this ‘I-woke-up-like-this’ mix of beauty and ease that perhaps best describes the drink,” which more than mere liquid refreshment is “a mantra, an attitude, a state of being.”

Photo: Erin & Steven Berrebi / @erinandsteven

In the book they call out Select, the classic Venetian aperitivo dating from 1920 that is the key ingredient in making the original Venetian Spritz, and which was likely the very first spirit to be combined with prosecco and soda water to constitute what we now think of as the etched-in-stone recipe. Other brands’ marketing campaigns may lead you to think otherwise, but this is the true archetype.

Select is used to make the spritz of choice at the top five-star hotels in La Serenissima such as the St. Regis Venice, a filming location for one of the most stylish films of all time, The Talented Mr. Ripley. And last year the brand launched Spritz Week, a “global celebration of the world’s beloved sparkling cocktail,” in Venice, which subsequently traveled to the UK, Paris, New York, Miami, Mykonos, Hong Kong and Sydney, amongst other locales.

Photo: Erin & Steven Berrebi / @erinandsteven

Spritz Week saw the opening of Ca’ Select, Select Aperitivo’s stylish new HQ in the Cannaregio district of Venice, a former industrial laboratory transformed by Marcante-Testa Architects into a combination bar / event / exhibition / production space that allows visitors to “experience the brand in a distinctly Venetian setting.” Guests there will also encounter the gorgeous designs of Koshevoy Bogdan, a talented young Ukrainian artist who won top honors in Select’s art competition, Ca’ Select Arte, which launched in 2022. 

Image: Blubanana Studio / Courtesy Select Aperitivo

“Ca’ Select, created thanks to a significant investment, represents a fundamental step in our multi-year plan to consolidate the brand and aims to strengthen the link with the city of origin,” said Marco Ferrari, former CEO of Gruppo Montenegro. “It is no coincidence that we have decided to bring the heart of Select’s production here, to enhance the local culture, starting with the valuable architectural elements that enrich the space.”

Photo: Erin & Steven Berrebi / @erinandsteven

As Food & Wine notes, “While it shares the low proof and mellow sweetness of Aperol, Select is quite a bit more complex, with pleasant notes of vanilla and a nice bitter edge.” Other spritz connoisseurs unafraid to experiment outside the big-name brands often tout wine-based Aperitivo Cappelletti, aka “Il Specialino,” which dates to 1906—making it one of the oldest styles of classic red bitter still in production—and hails from Trento in the Italian Alps, as a favorite.

Courtesy Select Aperitivo

Rudi Carraro, Global Brand Ambassador at Gruppo Montenegro, Select’s parent company which also makes the iconic Amaro Montenegro, tells us that the first spritz as we know it today was likely created in Venice in the 1950s, as a riff on a white wine spritzer when a bartender had the brilliant idea to add Select to the drink when a customer requested more of a “kick”—a similar origin story to that of the Negroni. “Which is the turning point,” he says, “because from then every other city, from here to the very west and north of Italy, started to make the spritz with their own bitter. But since Venice has always been a trendsetting city, from that moment on we had the introduction of Select here, and then everybody else followed.”

Courtesy Ryland Peters & Small

While Select remains the gold standard, innovations are still taking place. Cappelletti recently launched a new, all-natural aperitivo called Mazzura, made with botanicals sourced from hills and valleys in the Dolomites, giving it more of a fuchsia hue, which is quickly gaining a following. Matt Dyer, co-owner of Wandby Landing in Kennebunk, Maine, which has chefs from French Laundry and other legendary eateries, as well as one of the best bars in New England, favors Mazzura at his acclaimed restaurant.

The new Sala Gaspare bar at Milan’s famed Camparino, dedicated to all things Campari (Campari)

“It offers a more complex and nuanced profile compared to Aperol in a spritz,” Dyer explains. “Mazzura’s blend of botanicals deliver a richer taste, adding depth and sophistication, and its slightly lower sweetness and higher ABV allow for better balance in the cocktail.” Two other highly spritz-able spirits exuding sprezzatura in spades we’re keeping an eye on come from even farther afield, traditionally speaking, in Brooklyn, New York: Faccia Brutto, a “bittersweet rendition of the classic ‘red bitter’ but with more character”; and St. Agrestis’s Inferno Bitter, which as the name portends has even more of a bite. 

Courtesy Brother Wolf

Regardless of which spirit you choose, you’re guaranteed to walk away from the encounter with a spring in your step, thanks to its inherent sip-ability. “The spritz is a drink for adults,” Jessica King, owner of Brother Wolf, an alluring bastion of aperitivo cocktails in Knoxville, Tennessee—the bar’s name alludes to the mythical founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus—tells us.

“It’s the true low-key ‘adult beverage’ designed for drinkers, not unlike myself, who desire society without losing all sense of inhibition. Thanks to the standard of being low ABV, carbonated and balanced in both sweet and bitter, the spritz is light, fun and almost always delicious—without rendering its consumer useless the next day.” 

A version of this article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Maxim magazine.

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