Aperol looks like it belongs in a Wes Anderson movie. The bottle design is gracefully dated; the liqueur itself a quirky rosy-orange color (the kind we could see on Gwyneth Paltrow’s character’s nails as she takes falconeering lessons from Bill Murray, as himself (#becauseWesAnderson). As bar ingredients go, it’s both incredibly unique and fairly flexible (think low ABV, high-complexity-leaning-toward-edgy-and-bright-flavor palate). And unless you get to know it, it’s exactly the kind of bottle that has potential to gather dust on your back bar over the course of some very unfabulous years.
Here are 10 more things to know about the plucky Venetian aperitivo (cue awesome soundtrack).
Aperol is not Campari. (Well, sort of.)
Maybe the most important big thing to know about Aperol before you get started knowing all the fun cocktail party trivia things: It’s not Campari. It’s easy to get them confused, not least because the Campari Group actually owns Aperol. But as far as the liquid products Campari and Aperol go, confusion is natural: They’re both sunsetty-hued Italian bitter liqueurs with flavor profiles that read like someone spritzed citrus into a mysterious apothecary. There are several differences better explained here, but one big, portable takeaway: Campari is more. It’s darker in color, higher in alcohol, and has more up-front “can-you-deal-with-that?” bitterness in the flavor profile. Aperol is gentler, lighter, the kind of thing you can sip over the rocks poolside without making a bitter-pucker face and ruining the Insta moment.
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Aperol is a low-alcohol drink.
For a drink with so many bold elements in its flavor profile, it’s actually kind of surprising to learn that Aperol is only 11 percent ABV, about the same as you’ll find in a Pinot Grigio, except here you’re getting a brambly forest of roots and spice and secret citrus groves for a flavor profile. Considering Aperol came out in 1919 and low-ABV drinking is just recently getting national notice, you can say Aperol was on-trend about a century ahead of time.
The Aperol Spritz is so popular, some people hated it for a minute.
Aperol is a pretty buttoned-up liquid on its own: again, low ABV, tightly knit flavors that tend to bloom over ice. But add Prosecco and some club soda and you’ve got the stuff of a summer drinks craze to rival all slushy and bro-y variants of rosé. So no shock, Aperol Spritz had its moment (including a dedicated Instagram account) and everything got annoying for a while, so much so that there was a brief war between The New York Times and the rest of the drinking internet (a.k.a. The Internet) about whether the Aperol Spritz is actually a good drink. (Quoth the internet: It is.)
It’s both refreshing and bracing.
The key players in Aperol’s flavor profile are sweet and bitter oranges, tart rhubarb, and some secret herbs, roots, and spices. You could imagine a similar seasoning profile for some kind of roasted holiday protein, but the brothers Barbieri did a good job at incorporating just so much of each strong flavor to create a profile that’s surprisingly delicate, where bitterness acts as a sort of bracing, sturdy frame for the mystique of the rest of the flavor profile.
It’s proof beyond Nintendo that Italian brothers can work together.
We all know Mario and Luigi aren’t like, best friends, but when it’s time to take out King Koopa and save The Princess, they band together.
Aperol is also the brainchild of two Italian brothers — Luigi and Silvio Barbieri, who inherited their father Giuseppe’s liquor company in 1912 and decided to do something a little unexpected with it. Instead of churning out a standard-strength spirit or liquor of some kind, they wanted to make a uniquely low-alcohol aperitivo. Where ABV was down, however, flavor would have to be heightened. Hence…
It took seven years to perfect the recipe.
It took Silvio and Luigi seven years to come up with just the right recipe, which, like pretty much every European liqueur, is a sort of a secret (see below). After inheriting their father’s liquor business in 1912, they worked for seven years to formulate Aperol, which made its debut in 1919. Given the results, those seven years were well spent, unlike, say, the Ph.D. some of us got in comparative surgery (turns out there’s only one kind). To this day, the recipe hasn’t changed.
It’s named for what it’s meant for.
Aperol really is a drink of contradictions (the good kind, not the torturous time travel “Black Mirror” episode kind). It’s complexly flavored yet low ABV and meant to start (not end) your night of drinking. Just look at the name: Aperol is named from the French word “aperitif,” a term for the kind of light, palate-exciting pre-dinner drink Aperol was designed to be. That’s like if Gatorade were renamed “Hangover Juice” or milkshakes were called “Because You Wanted to Drink Dessert with Your Burger” (hell yes I did).
There’s a weird reason German Aperol is stronger.
Aperol in Germany is 15 percent ABV. Why? Their Einwegpfand law. Yes that reads like a desperate (or drunken) Scrabble move, but it’s actually just a container law, part of their Pfand plastics and glass re-usage system, whereby a .25 euro tax is added to glass and plastic bottles if the liquid inside is under 15 percent ABV. (The goal isn’t to deter drinking with random math, but to reduce environmental waste by single-use plastic, and it seems to work.)
It goes with gose. (You can add it to beer.)
Aperol has that bittersweet fruity thing with a hint of thirst-quenching salinity. Gose beer has that tart, prickly refreshing vibe with a hint of thirst-quenching salinity (the style is brewed with salt water). Ahem… (This is the point in a romcom where both hot but awkward leads realize they were both hot the whole time.) But Aperol and gose could go well together, and pave the way for next-level spritziness in beer cocktails in general. (There are already some decent-looking gose/Aperol concoctions out there.)
Aperol knows how to target our hearts (with ads).
Aperol had early success in marketing with a 1960s-era commercial spot in a popular Italian TV show, where Italian actor Tino Buazzelli first enunciated their catchy tagline, “Ah…Aperol!” Like, of course, you sly little bottle of delights. But our favorite Aperol spot has to be this one from Italian director Stefano Salvati in the early ‘90s, for the short-lived super-low-ABV Aperol Soda, because it has ’80s/’90s hair (’80s/’90s very brushable dude’s hair), unapologetic vest-wearing, and Aerosmith, and it all seems to take place in an Italian version of the Tom Cruise movie “Cocktail” that we hope is actually the Welcome Lounge to Heaven.