By this point, it’s pretty likely you’ve heard of the Aperol Spritz, a bubbly, bitter-but-sweet mix of Aperol, prosecco, and soda water that’s known for its bright orange hue. The aperitif has seen a marked rise in demand in the U.S. thanks to increased interest in Italian bitters and viral articles like the New York Times’ “The Aperol Spritz Is Not a Good Drink” (which, let’s be real, deterred few from consuming it). While I’m personally of the opinion that it is, in fact, delicious and deserving of acclaim, I also believe that its popularity often overshadows other interesting but lesser-known spritzes that are just as worthy of attention. One in particular? The Select Spritz, a cocktail that is similar in composition but has a taste and history all its own.
For the uninitiated, the Select Spritz is made with Select Aperitivo, a deep red, bitter herbal aperitivo that’s made with 30 botanicals (juniper berries and rhubarb root being the most prominent). The liqueur was actually introduced in 1920, only about a year after Aperol came into existence. Unlike Aperol, though, which originated in Padua, Select is Venetian; according to Tad Carducci, Director of Outreach and Engagement at Select, it was created in the Castello district at Pilla Distilleries in Venice, “a place renowned for the art of liquor making,” he tells TZR in an email.
Its recipe and introduction weren’t simply random decisions, though. At that time, the Pilla brothers were eager to contribute to the social and economic revitalization of postwar Venice. So, they drew inspiration from the city’s “long, rich history” as the hub of Europe’s spice trade, says Carducci, to develop the original recipe and flavor profile of Select. “Exotic ingredients from far-flung lands had been brought through Venice’s port for centuries,” he explains. “The Pilla brothers wanted to create a bitter aperitivo that evoked that sense of globality by incorporating spices and herbs from East Asia, Southeast Asia, etc., married to ingredients from Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean.”
For decades thereafter, Select was used in the traditional way of bitters — on the rocks with citrus, mixed with soda water, or as an ingredient in the Americano, says Carducci. It also made appearances in original cocktails in notable cafes of Venice and various other cities. (In fact, he continues, Select was “a critical ingredient in a handful of cocktails that appeared in a famous Italian book published in 1936, called 1000 Mixtures.”) You’ll notice though, that Carducci doesn’t mention its use in a spritz. That’s because according to him, it wasn’t until about 50 years post-launch that the Select Spritz, or the Venetian Spritz, was born, using the classic recipe of Select, prosecco, and soda, garnished with one green olive.
Since then, it’s remained a staple of Italy’s aperitivo hour — the practice of consuming low-ABV, somewhat bitter drinks before dinner to whet the appetite — that Carducci says has “been part of Italian social culture for centuries.”
Like many other spritz recipes, however, it’s become much more than just one of Italy’s early-evening drinks of choice. “The spritz culture has long been part of the Italian lifestyle and over the last 20 years or so has spread into other parts of Europe and beyond,” notes Carducci, citing Switzerland and Austria as two “huge Venetian Spritz consumers.” The U.S. is seeing spritz culture blossom as well, particularly in warm, sunny coastal areas, he says.
It’s also no longer simply a pre-dinner drink. As Carducci explains, “sunny weekend afternoons, brunch, long nights out on the town, etc.” have all become common occasions for sipping the cocktail. “A Select Spritz is actually quite a popular European après-ski drink (sometimes during ski!) in many parts of Europe and now the U.S.,” he shares. And clearly, the brand is embracing this. It even launched a pop-up called Select Slopeside this winter, which gave guests and visitors of W Aspen and Viceroy Snowmass in Aspen, Colorado, and Urban Cowboy’s The Lodge in Upstate New York the chance to sip on its signature cocktail after a day on the slopes. “Again, it’s invigorating and refreshing and not high in alcohol, so it’s a great option when moderating consumption.”
It’s also easy to make, requiring all of three ingredients. According to the Select Aperitivo site, to make a proper Select Spritz, you need:
- 3 parts chilled prosecco
- 2 parts Select Aperitivo
- 1 splash of soda
Starting with the prosecco, pour over ice and stir gently. Garnish with a large Castelvetrano olive or other green olive, and you’re ready to sip!
So, what could be next for the Venetian Spritz? While it continues to grow in popularity, it’s not the only way people are consuming Select these days. In fact, Carducci says that bartenders and people in general are increasingly using the liqueur in drinks like the Americano (much like they did in its beginnings) and the Negroni. In his opinion, that’s because it provides more “elegance and finesse” than other bitters.
“Additionally, Select is being widely used in non-Italian cocktails, taking advantage of its versatility as a proper bitter. [These range] from the tropical, rum-based Jungle Bird to the Venetian Paloma, made with tequila and fresh grapefruit,” continues Carducci. The liqueur is even being included as an addition to other “sour”-style cocktails like margaritas and daiquiris because, as he says, “Select not only brings other layers of flavor and balance, but also a bright pop of color.”
Presumably, that’s why Select is still using its original recipe to this day — and why, when it once changed the formula along with the packaging, customers quickly demanded a reversal of the decision. (The brand did return to its initial, more “robust and savory” version in 2018, while also paying homage to the bottle’s first iteration.) “Once a bartender or home consumer tastes [Select], they are sold,” says Carducci. “It makes a bigger, bolder version of the spritz. It makes a kinder, gentler Negroni. And it elevates so very many other types and styles of drinks.”