The Aperol Spritz, it seems, has had its day. Once virally popular all over Europe, the Spritz has stiff competition for the summer apéro spot. There is another kid in town, and his name is Hugo.
I first came across the Hugo in the bar of Hotel Bes in Claviere in Piedmonte, northern Italy. I ordered an Aperol Spritz from the barman. Knowing I liked to explore food and drink, he suggested I try the Hugo. He said of the drink:
“Nobody drinks Aperol Spritz anymore. It’s all about the Hugo.”
The basic idea of the Hugo is similar to that of the Aperol Spritz, but it loses the bitters and adds a syrup. It was 2005, when Roland Gruber, of the San Zeno bar restaurant, in the South Tyrolean village of Naturno, started to mess about with melissa syrup and prosecco. After coming up with the perfect formula, Gruber nearly called it ‘Otto,’ but eventually settled on ‘Hugo’ for no reason other than he liked the sound of it. By the time Der Spiegel had written about it in 2012, the Hugo was available all over the Alps and was migrating northward. The drink was also available in pre-mixed bottles, which has led Gruber to imagine if it might have been worth patenting the recipe. I am reminded somewhat of horses and stable doors.
Now, if you have ever had a Hugo, there is a very strong liklihood that it will not have had melissa in it. Melissa syrup is essentially impossible to get hold of. Melissa officinalis is better known as ‘lemon balm,’ and acquiring it in the UK in any format other than seed is like trying to find virgin in a whorehouse. Even in Italy, most barman swap the melissa syrup out for the much more obtainable elderflower cordial.
However, this is The Nosey Chef, so we went to the bother of growing lemon balm from seed, mixing the leaves 1:1:1 v:v:v with water and sugar, boiling it up for 1 minute and letting it cool fully. We then strained and bottled it. After that, we made a Hugo … or three. It took 2 months in total from deciding to make the cocktail to actually drinking it. I think that is dedication right there.
The Aperol Spritz will be laid to rest in a wine bar in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, with a small group of mourners in Moschino and Reiss. No flowers.
- 150ml prosecco
- 20ml melissa (lemon balm) syrup (see notes)
- A spritz of soda (about 25ml – just enough to fizz it up without diluting)
- A sprig of fresh mint
- Slice of lime
Pour all the ingredients into a wine glass with ice and stir fully to ensure the syrup does not sink. Serve with a straw to encourage mid-drink mixing because that syrup does tend to head to the bottom of the glass.
Elderflower syrup is commonly used in place of melissa because melissa is a complete sod to get hold of ... but it ain't the original.