Spritz drinks are now flowing all over town, challenging summer drinking sensation frosé’s grip on the area.
Throughout parts of Europe and pretty much anywhere in Italy the wine-spiked spritz is the cooler of choice when the mercury rises. In recent years, D.C. drinkers sought out the rosé slushies bar managers have been rolling out like clockwork as soon as the swamp gets steamy. Now variations on the spritz are bubbling up as well.
A traditional spritz calls for sparkling wine — prosecco is a popular choice — a citrus-forward bitter liqueur such as Aperol or Campari, and a splash of soda water. A properly made spritz is similar to a Negroni, but with less bite. When done by the book, it is less alcoholic than a typical cocktail, which also helps explain why it becomes a go-to during the dog days in D.C.
“You’re thirsty. Your body isn’t craving a booze bomb, it’s craving water,” says Nick Farrell, spirits manager at Hazel (808 V St. NW) says. Earlier this year Hazel introduced a spritz cart that will circle the restaurant’s patio through the end of summer. Farrell created three twists on the drink ($11 each) including a classic version, a dirty martini-style drink, and the Hipster, featuring Caffo Mezzodi liqueur, orangecello, salt, orange bitters, and IPA.
“They make you reach for that glass of water more frequently too, as that subtle bitterness makes your mouth water,” Farrell says, adding that he’s interested in introducing existing spritz fans to “unexpected flavors.”
At Vinoteca (1940 11th St. NW), the spritz has collided with rosé, another of the city’s hottest beverage trends. The U Street wine bar bar offers a Rosé Spritz ($14) during its summer-long “Rosé Days” on its back patio. Sommelier Kate Chrisman’s take on the drink is infused with rosé wine, hibiscus syrup, soda water, and ice containing frozen herbs and fruit (think: mint and melon).
French brasserie Opaline (806 15th St. NW) opened in May with two Parisian-style interpretations of the spritz. One is made with Lillet Rose, “blueberry essence,” and lemon zest, while another marries imported apricot brandy and Aperol.
Along with being easy drinking and refreshing, spritzes have long served as aperitifs.
“It gets your blood flowing, your stomach rumbling, and ready for food,” says Amy Brandwein, chef and owner of Rammy Award-winning restaurant Centrolina (974 Palmer Alley NW). In addition to classic Aperol and Campari-fueled spritzes, Centrolina’s bar also mixes drinks using the less-aggressive Cappelletti and Contratto Bitter, which is made from an Italian brandy.
According to Brandwein, spritzes can also complement meals — particularly dishes that might otherwise be overwhelmed by boozier concoctions. “Cocktails can have strong aftertastes,” she says.
Over in Georgetown, Via Umbria (1525 Wisconsin Avenue NW) has run with that idea by swapping in spritzes for mimosas during Sunday brunch. The $40 ticketed event includes a welcome glass of prosecco and bottomless Aperol spritzes (bloody marys and bellinis are also on the menu) to accompany the three-course meal.
While all the innovation allows local bartenders to put their stamp on the drink, a no-fuss spritz – preferably enjoyed al fresco – is still hard to beat.
“Sitting outside, sometimes you just want something cool and bubbly to cool you off,” Brandwein says.