Lighter in body, flavor and ABV than most bitters, this is a friendly introduction to the world of Italian aperitivos. Still, it’s got enough complexity and versatility to have earned a permanent place in every mixologist’s lineup.
As summer sets in, now’s the time to get to know Aperol a little bit better. Whether you’re just getting acquainted or you think you have Aperol cornered, there’s more to this vermillion beauty than you might realize.
Aperol first hit the scene in Italy in 1919, and it wasn’t long before it took the country by storm. Actually, what really got it rolling was a heavy marketing campaign aimed at female drinkers. It was pitched as a sensible sipper for the health-conscious, since its low alcohol content meant fewer calories.
Then came the little drink that changed everything: the Aperol Spritz. This signature cocktail is a simple mix of Prosecco, Aperol and soda with a slice of orange. Served over ice in a wine goblet, this is basically liquid sunshine.
Hundreds of thousands of spritzes are guzzled daily in Italy, keeping the country steadily soaked in the bittersweet liqueur. Served with small plates of snacks in café bars, it’s a great way to enjoy an afternoon hour with some friends without breaking the bank—or getting sloshed before dinner.
You may not have tried Aperol solo, so let’s start with a quick overview. I sat down to investigate this spirit more closely using my favorite method: I poured it over a giant ice cube in a tiny glass (which just so happens to be a former Nutella jar).
Appearance: Oh, so pretty. Aperol is similar in appearance to Campari, but comes in a shocking orange instead of a garnet red. It can lend a lot of vibrant color when added to simple cocktails, and is just plain nice to look at.
Nose: On first inhale you get a balloon of rich orange fruit, a bitter herbal undertone, and a pleasant mellow heat.
Taste: When it hits the tongue, orange zest takes the frontline, followed by earthy gentian and tart rhubarb, all laced together with warm cane sugar.
Body: There’s a soft viscosity that flows like honey syrup. However, it’s not too thick or candied. It moves pretty lightly along tongue and makes way for more (and more).
Finish: The finish comes back to the bittersweet side of the spectrum, with a slightly medicinal tone that lingers on. Some grapefruit peel is in there, too.
Most of the time you’re only going to see Aperol served in one of two ways: the Aperol Spritz or the Aperol Soda, which is exactly what it sounds like. The Spritz is so ubiquitous in Europe that you can buy a pre-mixed, bottled version of the cocktail. Simply open, pour and add an orange slice.
Still, mixologists are tuning in to find other fun ways to play with Aperol. One relatively common approach is to use it in a Negroni. You can pour it in place of the standard Campari, add white vermouth instead of red, and end up with a lighter and more citric profile.
But what else can you do with this stuff? Well, it turns out, a lot.
Cocktails to try
I pulled out a few other bottles to see if I could mix up some simple spins on old classics, with Aperol joining the roster as guest star. It wasn’t long before I found some keepers. Here’s a few you can have rolling in no time.
Aperol and fresh grapefruit create a new experience from what’s otherwise a basic Margarita. With the added bitter elements and doubled-up orange aroma, everything becomes more mellow and layered. This one is easy to drink but not easy to forget.
- 1 oz tequila plata
- 1 oz Aperol
- 1/4 oz orange liqueur
- 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
- 3/4 oz fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
- 1/4 oz agave
Shake well and serve over ice in a rocks glass.
This new riff on the White Lady uses fresh tangelo juice for a rounder profile, but still delivers a bright citrus kick. The Aperol remains clearly present even while seamlessly melding with its good friend gin. Find a pool and keep these coming.
- 1 1/2 oz gin
- 1 oz Aperol
- 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 oz fresh tangelo juice
- Shake well and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass.
This gives a nod to the classic Sazerac, but ends up an entirely different drink. It’s amazing how well the Aperol integrates with the rye and bitters. Although terribly smooth, this little number is still whiskey-forward and brooding as hell.
When I make this again, I’ll probably nix the ice and serve it up in a simple chilled glass, much like a Sazerac.
- 2 oz rye whiskey
- 1 oz Aperol
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- 1 dash Angostura orange bitters
- 1 barspoon of sugar
Add the sugar and bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice, then pour in the rye and Aperol. Stir well and strain over ice. Twist some lemon peel over the surface, run it around the rim of the glass, and drop it in.