— Jenny Neill

House Cocktails: From One Bitter to Another

I was a teetotaler for all of my 20s, typically a formative period for those who like to imbibe a little alcohol now and then. That didn’t stop me from learning the tradition of drinking an aperitivo during a series of trips I took to Italy. An Italian friend introduced me to Sanbittér so I could participate in the tradition of “opening” one’s appetite before dinner. (Aperitivo is derived from the Latin form of “to open,” aperire.)


Photo courtesy of Luca Conti. Some rights reserved.

Aperitivo cocktails tend to fall into one of two camps: sweet or bitter. Sipping a beverage on either end of that flavor continuum is believed to awaken not only your tastebuds but your whole digestive system. In fact, the Italians also have a tradition for relaxing the digestion system at the end of a meal with another type of drink, a digestivo. But that particular ritual is a subject for another day.

Sanbittér is a non-alcoholic soda with an herbal flavor. It couldn’t be classified as a dry soda with sugar and fructose as the second and third ingredients after water. The bitter-orange that bubbles up out of this carbonated beverage is what puts it in the amaro, or bitter, category. I developed a fondness for the woody notes in this esoteric little soda. Enough so that once I graduated to drinking alcohol later in my 30s, I rather quickly discovered a preference for a bitter aperitif.

Spritz, a German word for “splash,” is also the name for a popular aperitivo in Italy. I’ve found that though the basic recipe is fairly simple, the specifics of how it’s prepared vary. Like the class of cocktails it falls into, it comes as bitter (made with Campari) or sweet (made with Aperol).

Campari poster

Photo courtesy of Mike Russell.

A half hour of internet research and I’m no closer to unraveling whether one style is more authentic than the other. Nor can I tell you I’ve found the recipe for it. What I will share is how we serve it in my house:

  • Pour a finger of Campari into a rocks glass
  • Add 3-5 fingers of Prosecco
  • Drop in 1-2 ice cubes

Look at that. It’s after 5pm on a Friday. That makes it Spritz time. Saluté to all!