Anyone who has ever set foot in Italy knows what a Spritz is. But recently the most popular of Italian aperitif is crossing the country’s borders and conquering America.
The Spritz drink is an aperitivo which is heavily ingrained into Italian culture. When authors Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau, founders of the website Punch, decided to write a book dedicated to the well known drink, they dove into every aspect of it. Their book Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes details the history and evolution of the cocktail, including recipes for 50 different variations of the beverage, and a multitude of snack suggestions to go along with it.
Despite a very packed schedule, co- author Leslie Pariseau kindly agreed to speak with La Voce, to elaborate upon the book and subject matter. She told us about her personal favorite recipes and shared anecdotes from the history of the cocktail and insider information on some of the best bars in New York to go to for a Spritz.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, what exactly is an aperitif?
“Aprire means to open, so in Italian aperitivo means an opening drink or an opener to a meal. Generally, aperitivi are bitter and accompanied by small bites.”
What does a standard Spritz consist of?
“To be a Spritz- which is more of a style of a drink than a recipe- three things are necessary: it has to be bubbly, sweet, and low in alcohol.”
What first gave you and Ms. Baiocchi the idea for the book? Did one of you approach the other with a proposition, or did you cultivate it together?
“Talia and I started Punch together, back in 2013, and Talia had been writing Sherry for Ten Speed Press, which was and is our collaborator in Punch, so we had a natural relationship with them already. And as we started Punch, our endeavor was bringing together the spirits and cocktails world with the wine world –and that’s exactly what a Spritz is, it’s spirits and wines. I think the idea of a Spritz and similar cocktails was a palate cleanser, as a resting drink. And as a business move, single subject books are extremely popular and satisfy a curiosity for people who want to explore a topic more in depth”.
What did you draw on when collecting the recipes for the book?
“At Punch we have a huge recipe archive — it was one of the first things we started doing when we built the website, so we have a great relationship with a lot of bars and bartenders around the country. We put a call out to all the bars and bartenders that we knew and love, and we thought about what we wanted to see more of, tested recipes. We really wanted to have a coffee cocktail, for example, so we started making that: we sat down every single week and tested through 12-15 recipes to begin to sort out our favorites”.
What was the dynamic like between you and Ms. Baiocchi? Did you focus on different areas? And if so, what areas did you focus on?
“Talia’s background is more in wine while mine is more in cocktails and spirits, and when it came to splitting up the book she worked on the history more intensively and I worked on the food, cocktails and bar part. Then, halfway through, we switched and edited each other’s work.”
What exactly is a Spritz Bar?
“There aren’t necessarily Spritz specific bars, but there are some bars that have a focus on it, and similar drinks. In Italy, for example, you can go almost anywhere and have a Spritz.”
For your book did you travel to Italy? Where?
“We traveled across Italy from Venice all the way to Milan—what we call the ‘spritz trail’ in the books—in a tiny Fiat packed with luggage.”
What were your impressions?
“Every place is different, but there’s a specific romance to Venice. Venice is laid back, and spritz hour comes a little earlier there than it does in Milan, which is a more industry-focused city with a more rigid schedule. The way each place drinks is reflective of its particular culture.”
Several different Italian cities and regions claim the “paternity” of the authentic and original Spritz recipe, and each and every one of them has its own variation of the recipe. What do you have to say on the topic of this very Italian debate, and did you come up with your own answer?
“The spritz—a word which means “to spray”—is actually a very Austrian thing. The story goes that during the Habsburgs’ occupation of Italy, the Austrians were diluting Italian wines with water, or “gespritzing” them. There are many origin stories, many of which are fantastical, but the most likely story is the one where Austria meets Italy.”
What is your personal favorite Spritz recipe?
“The one that we go back to all the time is the Punch House spritz, which has Cocchi Americano, grapefruit, Prosecco. We also love the Tarocco spritz, which has blood orange, vanilla syrup, gin, and prosecco.”
What is your favorite historical fun fact about the history of the Spritz?
““The great thing about cocktail history is that history gets a little fuzzy. There’s a story involving a bar fight that jokingly attributes a bloody nose to how the spritz got its red color. There’s also a story that has nothing to do with the drink, but with the food that goes along with the drink: In Venice they have cicchetti, little snacks you can find anywhere. One of those cicchetti called bacalao de mantecato, goes back to a 17th century Venetian ship captain who was shipwrecked with his crew near Flanders. They floated up to these tiny islands in Norway called Lofoten. When they got there, the people took them in and fed them dried cod that they had been making since the Vikings. When the Venetians departed, they packed their bags with it, and even now, Italy still buys its cod from Norway.” It started this kind of love affair between the two countries over this food.”
How, if at all, popular the Spritz is in the States? Do you think that Americans can appreciate the “ritual” of the Italian aperitif?
“Well, I think it’s becoming more of a trend, especially in cities where cocktail culture has a foothold. More and more places have aperitivo hours, especially in New York. Traditionally Americans have a different perspective on drinking, we have a cocktail hour, but it’s not always true that food accompanies cocktails. [In Italy this is always the case.] The Italian style –you can’t necessarily replicate– it’s always going to be the best way to drink.”
What are some of the best bars in New York to go to for a Spritz?
All photos reprinted with permission from “Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes”, by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.” Photography credit: Dylan + Jeni © 2016