Spritz is a verb and a fun bit of onomatopoeia. It derives from the German word spritzen, which means “squirt.” These are etymology-driven facts made indisputable by linguists and the nearest dictionary. Apply the word “spritz” to the context of cocktails, though, and all hell breaks loose.

When the concept originated in the late 19th century, making a Spritz meant adding a splash of water to wine. Nowadays — thanks in large part to Aperol’s masterful marketing plan and in smaller part to Jennifer Coolidge and the rest of the “White Lotus” gang — the Spritz has exploded, along with its real definition. Its build has been muddled through alterations like swapping low-proof liqueurs for higher-proof spirits or cutting the soda water altogether. Depending what bartender you’re ordering from, it might have kombucha! Fruit! Beer, even! Spritz means everything and nothing at all, and its form shifts from bar to bar.

This begs the question: What the hell is a Spritz in 2024?

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The Wide, Wide World of Spritz

There is technically a template to a Spritz, but even that varies depending on the space and who’s behind the stick. Some bartenders run it back to the drink’s original core elements as a White Wine Spritzer, where wine with a splash of soda and a citrus garnish suffice. Others build the drink around the modern Italian style of Spritz featuring Prosecco, a bittering liqueur, and soda water, with many using Aperol’s classic 3-2-1 ratio as a guide. Most agree the drink must be low-ABV, but many bars break this rule by adding vodka, gin, or agave spirits that nudge the beverage toward Highball or even Collins territory.

“You can make a split base in a Spritz using gin or mezcal, since making a Spritz is open to interpretation, but ABV is important,” says Maggie Mae Dale, bartender and self-described “Spritz queen” at Accomplice Bar in Los Angeles. “If you don’t stay under two ounces of spirit or if you add a high-proof spirit, it’s no longer a Spritz. It becomes a spirit and soda.”

This freeform interpretation among the industry set allows the category’s tendrils to spiral with wild abandon, and the pros believe they’re bound to get wilder as modern spritzes continue their shift from trend to mainstream.

“I think as the term grows it’s generally becoming looser and looser,” explains Travis Tober, owner of Nickel City in Austin. “I’m not mad at that.” On the consumer side, a Spritz tends to have a more concentrated definition, particularly when they order one off-menu — and that’s all due to a specific brand.

“The Aperol Spritz is the international dom,” explains LyAnna Sanabria, cofounder and beverage director of Papi Portland in Portland, Maine. “Over time, the word ‘Aperol’ became Spritz. An untrained bartender or a bartender working at a dive or a lowbrow bar may just automatically make an Aperol Spritz if they hear the word in an order.”

For bartenders that do understand this conflation, a guest ordering a Spritz presents an opportunity to introduce them to something new and less Aperol-centric. “When someone asks for a Spritz, I’d ask, ‘Do you want a classic Aperol or Campari Spritz? Or do you want something fun and different?’” says Dale. “More often than not, they will say, ‘Ooooh, I do want to try something different!’ Then, I’ll make them a Spritz with a different red bitter, or I’ll use my intuition to make them something I think they’ll love.”

Spritzing High and Low

Because defining a Spritz is so wide open, it may be more appropriate to 86 the notion of trying to quantify it by its components. A proper Spritz isn’t just a drink — it’s a vibe. Specifically, it’s a vibe that chills you out and makes you forget the bad stuff in your life for a few minutes. So, what makes a perfect one?

There are a few factors in play. The Spritz’s simple formula makes it easy to dress it up in over-the-top fashion, inspiring some bars to create full-blown Spritz menus starring ingredients like butterfly pea, absinthe spray, or highly allocated spirits. For instance, Dante’s original location in NYC’s West Village currently adds balsamic to its Blood Orange Spritz to give it extra punch, while its Beverly Hills location uses olive bitters and a pinch of salt to give its Mediterranean Tonic Spritz a sense of place. But the drink’s simplicity also makes it the great equalizer, ready to be whipped together by any low-end sport with limited resources. While a fancy version at a poolside creates a better aesthetic than a cramped, noisy airport bar, any vibe the pool area may create will instantly dissipate if the Spritz tastes lousy.

“If I order a Spritz at the Newark Airport at 6 a.m. and it’s balanced, it will be much more satisfying than being on a bougie rooftop drinking a fancy-looking, unbalanced Spritz,” Sanabria says. “Will the wine be cheap at the airport? Yes. Will the sparkling water be out of a soda gun? Yes. But it will still provide more satisfaction because it’s balanced.”

Sunshine also seems to be part of the equation, and its presence in the sky transcends surroundings on the ground.

“There’s not necessarily a difference to where you’re drinking a Spritz as long as the weather works and there is a place to enjoy the sunshine,” explains Grant Sceney, creative beverage director at Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, Canada. “It can be by the pool at a high-end hotel, but if you’re a dive with a patio and the sun is shining, you can have that same feeling or relaxation.”

Location, Location, Location

Even geographic location can influence both the drink and how its vibe generates. Southern California’s extensive access to citrus fruit can encourage bartenders to mess around with a wider variety of fresh ingredients to add depth to the drink, while the extensive rainy season and the shortened summers of the Pacific Northwest may truncate the opportunity for vibing to a shorter, more intense window. (“We do sell less Spritzes in cloudy or inclement weather,” Sceney notes). In Texas, scorching temperatures may cause some residents to reach for a Spritz as a means of relief. “If you think about it, one of the classic Texas cocktails, the Ranch Water, has very Spritz-like qualities,” Tober says. “We’ll do anything here to cool down.”

With all due respect to the sun, some bartenders still push back on the notion that Spritzes are purely a summertime novelty, citing the year’s coldest months as a prime time for Spritz-drinking.

“It’s the best time for growing citrus, and there’s nothing better to me than drinking a blood orange Spritz during wintertime,” Dale says.

A wintry Spritz can also play out in other parts of the country, thanks to the drink’s nebulous build. A quick swap of an amaro like Cynar 70 in place of Aperol lets the Spritz effortlessly slide into the season of sledding and snowball fights. Plus, a chill in the winter air doesn’t equate to a lack of sunny skies.

“If I’m skiing in Vermont, I’m still sweating my ass off in the sun,” Sanabria says. “I may not crave an Aperol Spritz in the winter, but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave a Spritz at that time.”

The Bottom Line

It’s probably possible to Frankenstein a loose definition of whatever the hell a Spritz should look like in 2024: a low-ABV cocktail with wine, bubbles, and an aperitif or a digestif. It’s ready to be enjoyed whenever and wherever you damn well please. The word “crushable” may show up as an adjective somewhere. But in all honesty, if it puts us in a happy, relaxed mood, it’s made the right way — and that’s all that really matters.