Four years ago, the Campari company launched an aggressive campaign to turn the Aperol Spritz into the drink of the summer. It worked. The vibrant red-orange beverage flooded bar patios everywhere, and while its grip has loosened slightly since 2018, the bubbly cocktail is still very much present. But this year, I noticed a slight modification: Instead of a single orange wheel (or half-moon slice), spritzes are being garnished with briny green olives.
Salty olives in a mostly-sweet, slightly bitter beverage may seem counterintuitive, but they’ve been there all along. The Venetian spritz was created in Venice (obviously) in 1920, and an olive garnish was part of that original recipe. It’s unclear why the people at Campari dropped the olive from their recipe—I reached out to the company for comment, but they have yet to reply—but my gut tells me they omitted it to show deference to American imbibers, as we can be weird about mixing the salty and pungent with the sweet and citrusy. (This is a guess on my part, but we are a basic bunch, on a global scale.)
Flavor-wise, I think an olive makes a lot of sense, especially if you opt for a bitterer bitter, such as Campari or Cynar, over Aperol, which is the sweetest offering in the genre. Adding a briny olive adds another element of flavor to the aperitif—instead of sweet, bitter, and slightly acidic, your palate gets a hit of salty pungency, too.
Even if the olive was part of the OG cocktail recipe, I still didn’t understand why I was suddenly seeing it in spritzes all over my Instagram feed. I reached out to food and beverage writer Alicia Kennedy to see if she had any insight into spritzes’ recent, salty turn. “I think people are just loving olives,” she wrote over me via Twitter direct message. “It gives a sophisticated vibe, along with the rocks glass. The martini resurgence definitely I think made the olive a more popular garnish for a spritz.” Alicia also thinks the garnish makes sense, from a flavor-pairing perspective: “The salt complements that sweetness and bitterness better than an orange, in my opinion,” she wrote.
I, for one, am glad olives have clawed their way back into the spritz. To make your own Venetian, just add an olive or two to any spritz recipe, with our without the orange. (You know me though—I’m a big fan of multiple garnishes.)
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