In Venice it’s a “spritz,” in Rome it’s a Campari and soda. By whatever name, the Spritzer—think orange bitters and soda—is enjoying a big moment right now. In Santa Cruz, variations on a spritzer, using some version of an amaro (Italian bitters) such as Aperol or Suze, are finding local appeal.
The most accessible version available on most cocktail menus is the Aperol Spritzer which involves the light, bright Italian bitters, Prosecco, and a splash of soda water. Tangy and refreshing, this vibrant orange drink is also beautiful to look at, especially topped with a slice of orange. Think of it as a lighter-alcohol Campari and soda with the addition of Prosecco.
Of course, you can request Campari in your Spritzer, which will deepen the flavor as well as the alcohol. But serious cocktail explorers will want to wade into the deep end of the bitters pool, and that will invariably lead to the complex bitter-yet-sweet Fernet Branca, one of the world’s great ancient brews involving a secret folk recipe (but you can bet it involves many herbs, roots—especially gentian—and orange peel).
Or you could sample the truly strange Cynar, a pungent bitters made from artichoke, for an unforgettable spritzer. Italian bitters (amari is the plural) are the industry standard and top Santa Cruz saloons carry exotica from the sweetest amaro to most bitter—Aperol, Campari, Salers, Suze, Bruto Americano, and Fernet Branca. There are lots more, and they’re fun to explore.
Lots of new amari are popping up as designer ingredients in cocktails, and many of them—like the new small-batch gins—appeal to California’s love of herb and spice-tinged liqueurs. Rhubarb, laurel, oregano, licorice, pepper, seaweed, eucalyptus, cardamom, and saffron are only a few of the flavor notes that designer amari and bitters can contain. Talk to your mixologist, and discover your new favorite amaro for a uniquely refreshing summer spritzer. (Mine is Fernet, plus Venus Gin No.1, and a splash of soda.)
Start exploring spritzers on your own—great places to start in Santa Cruz are Bantam on the Westside, where exotic aperol siblings are a house specialty, and the inventive list of complex spritzers at 515 Kitchen & Cocktails.