The bittersweet, herbal liqueur is often consumed in aperitif drinks served before a meal. Aperol has a bright, herbal, and citrus-forward taste. That, in combination with its bright orange color, low ABV, and restrained bitterness, makes the Italian aperitif a key ingredient in several cocktail recipes.
Aperol was invented in 1919 by the Barbieri brothers and is made from a blend of sweet oranges, herbs, roots, and spices. The liqueur is often used as an alternative to other Italian liqueurs like Campari, despite significant differences in alcohol content, bitterness, and flavor profile.
Yet, despite its popularity, people are still wondering what Aperol is and how to use it. In this article, we will unravel the history of Aperol, learn how it tastes, and unfold ways to use the Amaro liqueur in cocktails and other mixed drinks. Here's everything to know about Aperol.
What is Aperol?
Aperol is an Italian liqueur famous for its unique bittersweet taste, moderate bitter notes, and bright orange color.
It belongs to the category of amaro liqueurs and is a specific type of aperitif, a type of drink served before a meal to stimulate appetite. The liqueur is even named after the Italian word for Aperitif - Apero.
Like other types of Amari, Aperol is made from a secret blend of herbs and spices. Yet, it's the orange peels that lend the liqueur its signature color and unique flavor. You can sip the slightly bitter liqueur on its own, but it is best when incorporated into cocktails.
What is an aperitif?
An aperitif cocktail, or aperitivo in Italian, is a drink consumed mainly in Europe to prepare your stomach for a meal. Aperitifs are typically light, refreshing drinks that taste great and stimulate your appetite.
Common base ingredients for aperitivos are fortified wines, liqueurs, and Amari like Aperol. Some well-known examples of tasty aperitif cocktails are the Aperol Spritz, Negroni Sbagliato, and the Americano cocktail.
What is Aperol made of? The Ingredients
The list of ingredients and the exact recipe for making Aperol is a well-kept secret. However, we know that Aperol includes oils from sweet and bitter oranges, gentian root, cinchona bark, rhubarb, and a selection of roots and herbs.
Campari America brand ambassador Anne Louise Marquis revealed this information during an interview. The blend of spices, roots, herbs, and orange peels is macerated in alcohol to extract as much flavor as possible.
After that, the mixture is sweetened and diluted to achieve the desired low alcohol content of 11% before bottling the liqueur.
What does Aperol taste like?
Aperol has a unique, bittersweet flavor profile with a distinct orange taste.
The blend of sweet and bitter oranges in the secret recipe gives Aperol its bright orange color and fruity citrus flavor. The bright taste, in combination with bitter flavors from herbs, gentian roots, cinchona bark (quinine), and rhubarb, creates depth and complexity.
Due to its high sugar content and lower alcohol content (only 11%), the liqueur is lighter, sweeter, and less bitter than comparable Amari such as Campari or Amaro Nonino.
How is Aperol Made?
Aperol is made by infusing a secret set of ingredients in neutral alcohol.
The process includes macerations, infusions, blending, adding sugar, and more. Here's a quick overview of how Aperol is made:
The Process of Making Aperol
The liqueur is the result of a multi-step production process. Here's what the process looks like:
- Maceration: Infusing neutral alcohol with sweet and bitter oranges, herbs, roots, and barks.
- Blending: Adding sugar, water, and additional flavorings until the desired sweetness and alcohol level is achieved.
- Filtering: The liqueur is then filtered to remove particles and impurities.
- Bottling: The filtered liqueur is then bottled.
How to use Aperol in Drinks
There are many ways you can use Aperol in drinks and cocktails. Let's start with the most popular one.
The Classic Aperol Spritz Recipe
The Aperol Spritz is a bright and refreshing beverage, that gained quite some popularity in recent years. It's one of the best Italian apéritifs besides the Negroni, and a staple at after-work get-togethers during the summer.
Here's how to make the cocktail:
- 3 Parts Prosecco or another sparkling wine
- 2 Parts Aperol
- 1 Part soda water
- Orange slice for garnish
- Fill a wine glass with ice cubes.
- Pour in Aperol, Prosecco, and soda water or club soda.
- Garnish with a slice of orange.
More Aperol Cocktails
Besides the Aperol Spritz, there are plenty of delicious cocktails to make with Aperol. Here are some of our favorite recipes.
- Aperol Sour: This sweet and sour cocktail uses Aperol as the base -obviously- and is spiked with gin. The other ingredients are lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg whites.
- Aperol Negroni: This twist on the classic Negroni recipe uses equal parts Aperol, gin, and sweet vermouth to create a lighter and lower-ABV cocktail.
- Aperol Gin & Tonic: This twist on the traditional Gin and Tonic recipe is an excellent alternative to an Aperol Spritz. Garnish it with an orange slice.
Aperol vs. Campari
Aperol and Campari are often compared. Both beverages belong to the Amaro category, both originate from Northern Italy, both belong to Gruppo Campari, and both are known for their bright colors.
However, compared to Campari, Aperol is lighter, brighter, and -you guessed it- less bitter. A fact that makes it a perfect ingredient for low-ABV cocktails.
Here's a table summarizing the differences between Campari and Aperol:
|Bright red color
|Distinctively bittersweet with prominent herbal flavors
|Citrusy with herbal undertones
|Adds depth, body, bitterness, and sweetness
|Sweeter, not as bitter, complements fruity flavors
|Negroni, Americano, Boulevardier
|Aperol Spritz, Paper Plane, fruity cocktails
|Strong spirits like gin, bourbon
|Sweet-and-sour fruits, Prosecco
|Can be overpowering, suited for inventive combos
|Refreshing, suitable for aperitifs and fruity drinks
|Combines with strong flavors, spices, vinegar
|Perfect for effervescent cocktails, pairs with sweet-and-sour fruits
Campari stands out with its bright red color and intense bittersweet flavor, offering an herbal and deep orange peel profile. With an alcohol by volume (ABV) of around 28%, it's suited for cocktails that require depth, body, and bitterness, but it can easily overpower other ingredients due to its strong characteristics. It pairs well with flavorful, strong spirits like gin and bourbon, making it an essential element in classics like Negroni and Boulevardier.
On the other hand, Aperol boasts an orange hue with a lighter, citrusy taste complemented by herbal undertones. At a lower ABV of 11%, Aperol leans towards the sweeter side and is often described as "Campari with training wheels." Its versatility shines in cocktails like the Aperol Spritz and Paper Plane, where it adds a refreshing touch and complements fruity and sweet-and-sour flavors. Its milder taste makes it an accessible choice for all-day sipping and pairs effortlessly with Prosecco.
Which One to Choose?
If you need to choose between Aperol and Campari, the ultimate choice depends on personal preference or the recipe you want to make.
In essence, Campari is the go-to for rich and herbal cocktails demanding bitterness, complexity, and intensity. Aperol offers a sweeter, lighter alternative, ideal for refreshing and vibrant concoctions with fruity flavors.
In 1919, Aperol first debuted during the Padua International Fair in a town called Padua, in the northern part of Italy, close to Venice. Here, the brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri created the secret recipe for the bittersweet orange liqueur.
The history started in 1912 when the two brothers took over the Barbieri company from their father and started working on a new recipe. In the end, it took them seven whole years to create the final recipe. Finally, in 1919, Silvio and Luigi presented their work at a trade show in Padua.
But although they developed the recipe with care -and didn't change until today- it was far from a quick win. On the contrary, it took quite some time until it became really successful.
According to the company itself, it wasn't until the end of World War II in the 1940s. At this time, the Aperol Spritz cocktail was born and drove sales for the liqueur.
This drink soon became a vital part of la dolce vita, the sweet life in Italy. During the 1950s, especially in the Veneto region in the northeastern part of the country, Aperol Spritz was a popular drink for get-togethers with friends and family. After that, the combination of Aperol, sparkling wine, and a splash of soda water quickly became a staple in bars and restaurants all over Italy.
In 2003, Gruppo Campari bought Aperol. And from then on, the popularity of Aperol skyrocketed. First inside Italy, then in other parts of Europe.
A few years ago, Campari also started marketing in North America, especially in the US, creating a gigantic hype around the liqueur and the cocktail. The Aperol Spritz was everywhere.
The bittersweet liqueur is relatively low in ABV. Generally, Aperol only contains 11% of alcohol by volume. However, in Germany, the ABV is higher, at 15%.
You might wonder why. Perhaps the Germans are particularly passionate about liqueurs with a higher ABV? It is not that, though. The real reason is less fun and a lot more political and economical.
In Germany, there's the so-called Mehrwegpfand law. That is a container law, prescribing to add between 0.08€ and 0.25€ per bottle sold if the alcohol content is below 15%. So it applies to all no low-alcoholic beverages like sodas, water, beer, wine, etc., sold in plastic or glass bottles.
Liqueurs and spirits are usually unaffected, as most contain more than 15% ABV. To avoid confusing customers, the liqueur brand decided to increase the amount of alcohol in their product for the German market.
Aperol is a bittersweet apéritif liqueur that belongs to the Amaro family. It has a relatively low alcohol content with only 11% ABV and is famous for its use in an Aperol Spritz.
Aperol is bittersweet like other Amaros. However, its level of bitterness is on the lower end of the bitter scale. The taste of Aperol is orange-forward with herbal flavors and hints of rhubarb.
Like other Amari, Aperol should be stored in the fridge once open. Here, Aperol remains good to use for up to 3 months.
On average, a bottle of Aperol (750 ml) will cost you $24. In Europe, it often sells for 10 to 15€.