I’m just back from Sicily where I led a wine, food and culture tour for a small group organized by Authentic Sicily.

I plan to post a diary of our amazing tour, but in the meantime, let’s talk about Aperol. Sicily was gripped in a heat wave similar to the one that broiled the East Coast this week, but without the Biblical storms, like we had last night here in New York(!).

While touring under the blazing Sicilian sun, I got into the habit of popping into the nearest bar for a quick Aperol Spritz, which I find to be a perfect, low-alcohol refresher when it’s hot. Really hot. At one particular caffe in Ragusa called Bar Ferrera (Piazza Duomo, 33), the barmen made perfect cocktails and theatrically finished each drink using old-fashioned seltzer dispensers. And they also set up a midday buffet of snacks (which was both gracious and unheard of for pre-happy hour service), which included olives and chips.

A consummate barman in Ragusa set up a beautiful Happy Hour spread for us -- at 11:00 a.m.

Several of our guests had never even heard of Aperol, so I described it as it is often described, as ‘Campari on training wheels.’ I am a lover of all things bitter (especially beer!), and love the layer of bitter orange at the foundation of Campari. Aperol has a similar taste, but is much, much milder and somewhat sweeter. It’s the perfect introduction to bitter aperitifs. And when mixed with Prosecco, its bitterness becomes even more subtle.

Thirsty? The recipe is below. But for a full explanation of Aperol and a brief history, I give you this from Diffordsguide.com:

The Barbieri Company was established in 1891 by Giuseppe Barbieri in Padua, Italy to produce and market a wide range of liqueurs. The company’s most famous and enduring product, Aperol, was especially created in 1919 by his two sons, Luigi and Silvio for Padua International Fair, a large exhibition attracting international visitors held in the their home. Silvio Barbieri named Aperol after the French word for aperitif, ‘apéro’, which he had learnt on a recent trip to France and seemed appropriate for their new bitter-sweet liqueur.

This spirit based aperitif’s unique flavour and orange/red colour comes from a secret infusion of 16 ingredients, including bitter orange essence, gentian, cinchona bark (quinine), Chinese rhubarb. The majority of herbs and roots used come from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy and the recipe remains unchanged since it was first created in 1919. Aperol does not undergo any aging process and is ready to be bottled immediately after blending.

The concept of making an aperitif with an alcohol content of only 11% was revolutionary, and perhaps a little before its time, as it did not take off and became a major success until after the second world war.

In 1991 the Barbieri Company was acquired by Ireland’s C&C International but their tenure was short lived and in 2003 Gruppo Campari purchased Barbero and with it Aperol. Gruppo Campari have continued to build Aperol and today it is enjoyed by over 3.4 million Italians and is commonly available across Europe and North America. In 2011, Gruppo Campari repackaged Aperol and stepped up international marking of the popular Aperol Spritz drink.

I found some cool vintage posters on Aperol’s website, including these from the 1930s targeting women, and how Aperol’s low alcohol (and presumably low calories) helped maintain a “la bella figura.”

This is a woman with her hands full!

 “In the thirties a print campaign dedicated to women is published in major newspapers. Aperol is presented as the liqueur for the fitness conscious, keeping them lean and fit thanks to its low alcohol content.”

This one says: "Ladies! Aperol (helps) maintain the line" -- as in waistline.

On Aperol’s U.S. website,  There are more than a dozen recipes, mixing Aperol with everything from vodka to mezcal to grappa. My favorite, however, remains the classic Aperol Spritz.

3 parts Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash of seltzer
1 big fat orange slice, halved

Into an ice-filled rocks glass add Prosecco, then Aperol, then seltzer. Put the orange slice into the drink (not on edge) and gently stir.

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