I am probably the worst person to review a book on cocktails since I rarely drink and usually then I stick with something like gin & tonic or a shot of aquavit straight out of the freezer, but the beautiful design of the book Spritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau drew me in irresistibly. However, in reading this book, it seems I need to add to my repertoire, besides to call this a book of cocktail recipes is not only a disservice to the book, it’s not even close to true. More than half the book is dedicated to an overview of the history and sociological importance of the spritz, the social movements that brought it about and to the different elements that make a spritz.
What makes the spritz appealing to me is that it’s flavor profile is not sweet, but is anchored by a bitter flavor. The basic spritz recipe is three parts prosecco, two parts bitter liquor and one part soda. This tradition of mixing wine with water began in Ancient Rome. Yes, Plato was a spritzer, though he sadly did not have carbonated water.
The word “spritz” comes from the German spritzen which means “to spray” but the authors see a more serendipitous word association with the Italian world sprezzatura which is not really related to spritz etymologically. Still, there is that sound, spritz and sprezzatura, and the meaning of effortless grace, of style and ease and “in essence, the art of concealing art’s design.” For Baiocchi & Pariseau, spritz is sprezzatura in a glass. Their goal, with their book, is to show how it is not just a bunch of drink recipes, but “part of a ritual and a means to understand an entire country’s philosophy on socializing—the “spritz life,” if you will.” They succeed with a quick, but solid history of the development of cafe culture, the transgressive marketing of aperitifs, and the birth of the spritz and its marketing.
The modern spritz could not have been invented until soda water, which makes it a thoroughly modern drink. What makes it special, though, is the inclusion of bitter liqueurs. This is what makes it appeal to me. I like bitter flavors, they are daring, challenging and so much more interesting.
What is most fascinating is the connection made between the Futurist art movement and the similar movement in mixology. Who knew there was such a thing?
As to the recipes, some of them are delicious sounding. There are quite a few with orange liqueurs and orange peel that I will have to skip over, but some sound perfect, like one with ginger, lime and Angostura bitters and a another made with caraway infused bitters, peach preserves and lemon juice. They sound tantalizing, after all, I love a bit of Angostura bitters in a glass of ginger ale. This sounds like a more sophisticated version of that with a bit of peach flavoring on top.
There are also some recipes for some foods to eat while you’re drinking. Roasted olives are easy and delicious and if, like me, you’re allergic to oranges, you can use some lemon zest or grapefruit zest instead. The crostini toppings are my favorite food recipes. Hazelnut pesto with roasted tomatoes? Who could not love that.
I love so much about this book from the fabulous photos by Dylan + Jeni, a husband and wife photography team whose photo mesh so well with the Illustrations by Matthew Allen. The design of the book effectively represents the entire idea of the spitz as a social expression, of being part of a time, a place and a movement. It’s rare to see design and content mesh so perfectly. That the content is fascinating, with a deeper look at the social context is another added bonus. Then, to top it all off, a new low-alcohol cocktail that incorporates bitter flavors, it’s a winner all around.