A new sight has sprouted up on restaurant patios this summer: cheerful orange umbrellas emblazoned with logos for Aperol spritz. I first noticed them at Ruggero’s, a new Italian restaurant in Wading River, and then a few other places. While drinks-branded umbrellas are nothing new, this bold push of the classic Italian aperitif seems to be changing the drink’s fortunes on Long Island — where it’s still possible to draw a blank stare when requesting an Aperol spritz, even in Italian restaurants.
“They’re smoking this summer,” said Ray Bryan, Ruggero's assistant general manager (those umbrellas may have a subliminal effect). There, the drink — classically, a fizzy 3-2-1 formula of three parts prosecco, two parts Aperol, and a shot of soda water served over ice with an orange slice — is called the sound spritz and poured into a large wineglass. “We’re flying through them.”
The scarlet-hued Aperol was born in 1919 in the Northern Italian town of Padua, when brothers Silvio and Luigi Barbieri concocted a bittersweet liqueur flavored with botanicals such as gentian root and cinchona bark, as well as orange peel. Aperol’s clever name was synonymous with apéro (in France) or apéritivo (in Italy), that golden hour before sunset when friends convene for predinner snacks and light cocktails. At 11 percent alcohol — much lower than that of its cousin, Campari — Aperol was for decades marketed as health-conscious, via sporty, Deco ads and posters.
The popularity of Aperol spritz waxed and waned through the 20th century. When Aperol was purchased by Gruppo Campari in 2003, it was a savvy acquisition, one that portended the growing preference for lighter, lower-alcohol drinks, as well as drinkers' increased tolerance of bitters. Sales of Aperol have grown steadily since 2009, especially in newer markets such as the United States, according to the company.
We has something that Italy does not, though: Long, usually snowy winters. Will the Aperol spritz boomlet survive the coming of fall? It will at Ruggero’s, at least for a while. “[Aperol spritz] is more of a summer thing, but we’ll keep it on [the menu] as long we can," Bryan said. "The weather is nice until October or November.”