The History: We can mainly thank the Italian spritz, sometimes called spritz Veneziano or Aperol spritz (it features the slightly bitter Italian aperitif known as Aperol, together with prosecco and soda), for driving the popularity of spritzes, both in Italy and elsewhere abroad. Today, there are many variations on the wine-and-soda theme, with various bitter and herbal bases assuming the Aperol role. Recently, a spritz called Xavi, created by bartender Jay Kuehner at Capitol Hill’s Cloud Room Bar (coworking space by day, groovy public bar by night) transported me back to the euphoric heights of my first spritz 20 years ago in Italy.
The Update: Kuehner is a treasure of the local bar scene, tracing his time back to the legendary Sambar, which, sadly, closed in 2012. At Sambar, he introduced a nuanced, creative, artistic style of cocktails influenced by the classic drinks, European habits and even films (Kuehner is also a freelance film critic). He helped kick off Seattle’s cocktail revitalization, using intriguing European ingredients from the start. In the Xavi (a nod to Barcelona and named after Spanish footballer Xavi Hernández), on which he bestows the subtitle of a “Catalan Vermut Spritz,” he follows that road by swapping Italian Aperol for Spanish Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva vermouth, produced since 1884 and a key part of Spain’s la hora del vermut, or vermouth hour. As Kuehner explains, his experience on a visit to Spain had been that the “hour” stretched “from before noon until dusk,” and that “a vermut was the drink of choice as the sun deployed on the Mediterranean.”
The Final Taste: As with the Yzaguirre, Kuehner keeps to Spanish ingredients for the sparkling components of the spritz, using J. Ventura brut cava and Sant Aniol sparkling water. He also adds a smidge of sweet and another layer of bitter via a sugar cube soaked in Angostura bitters, topping off the Xavi with a long lemon peel ribbon and an olive. It’s a perfectly sociable drink, refreshing and flavorful, with the vermouth’s complex flavor enhancing that effervescence. While the spritz is a sparkling treat on the Cloud Room Bar’s deck in summer, its underlying herbal nature means it’s dreamy during cooler months, too, when you’ll sip it on one of the bar’s retro low-slung couches, reveling in the Paris-in-the-’60s vibe of the space while snacking on the tapas-influenced food. As a drink naturally low in alcohol, it’s also a good choice if you, as Kuehner says, “want to keep on trucking into evening with your speech intact.”
The Spanish ingredients used in this cocktail are not difficult to track down; most are available at Total Wine & More and other well-stocked local stores. If you can’t find Sant Aniol sparkling water, you could substitute another—but the vermouth must be Yzaguirre. Kuehner suggests a gordal, a large, firm Spanish olive, for the garnish.
2 dashes (approximately) Angostura bitters
2 ounces Yzaguirre rojo (red) vermouth
1 ounce Sant Aniol sparkling water
3 ounces J. Ventura brut cava
Long ribbon of lemon peel
In a chilled globe or wine glass, soak the sugar cube in the angostura bitters. You want the cube to begin dissolving; add more bitters if needed.
Add the vermouth and the ice. Carefully stirring, add the soda and cava. You can adjust the cava down to 2 ounces if that suits your taste.
Garnish with the lemon peel ribbon and green olive.