For all our desire to protect freedom of the press as a pillar of a functioning democracy, this might be the week when we all turn against the New York Times, thanks to Thursday's article: "The Aperol Spritz Is Not a Good Drink." This is trolling disguised as taste-making under a cloak of helpful recipe suggesting. And oh, did it work on all of us.
As of Friday morning, "Aperol Spritz" was one of the most-searched terms on Google, following the storm of social media protests and defenders in reaction to the story. As a writer of things on the internet, I have to tell the Times' Rebekah Peppler and her editors, "Well played." As a person with taste buds, however, I am disappointed, and this has nothing to do with my actual opinion of the drink itself.
To recap the great Aperol Spritz debate of 2019: Peppler's piece argues that it is not a good drink because "the sugary apéritif is paired with low-quality prosecco, soda water and an outsize orange slice, resulting in something that drinks like a Capri Sun after soccer practice on a hot day. Not in a good way." She goes on to quote a cookbook author to back up her opinion that Aperol itself is too sweet and not bitter enough. Then she goes back to the problem of bad prosecco (which, blame that on the bartender, not the drink recipe!). Finally, she describes her ideal spritz, which involves a good sparkling wine (but not too good), a bitter aperitif, and maybe an olive. If you want to learn more about her favorite spritz recipes, you have to go behind the NYT Cooking paywall.
The responses were swift and harsh.
Today was hard and all the weeks are hard and then I realize way too late the internet banded together to take down the aperol spritz? A drink that only wants to love us? A drink that when splashed with passion fruit nectar is goddamn perfection?— Courtney Enlow (@courtenlow) May 10, 2019
Haven't I been through enough?
Though, my absolute favorite response to the debate was from Alison Roman. “The funny thing about the Aperol Spritz thing is that the government is taking away a woman’s right to control her own body in 2019,” she wrote.
The back and forth is still going on as I write this. It's the best possible outcome for an article, to spark a battle like this, and no one is hurt in the process. The Aperol Spritz's popularity is the result of a Campari's marketing campaign, so it should be totally okay to bash like this.
But here's my problem with the original piece and others like it: When you start to say that a drink is definitively good or bad, you are reinforcing the idea that some people's taste is more valid than others. It starts out in good fun, but can wind up being cruel, elitist, and worse. I used to edit a website for bartenders, and both male and female bartenders would routinely bash "girly" drinks and roll their eyes at anything too sweet. The implication was always that the “right” kind of customer wanted their liquor expensive and undiluted — and since alcohol can affect women's bodies faster than men's, that can be a dangerous message to send.
The Times piece isn't advocating for stronger alcoholic cocktails, though, so maybe I'm reading too much into it. They just want you to be a snob and use more expensive prosecco, or, sorry, pétillant natural. Also, subscribe to their Cooking site, just to be safe.