A taste expert explains why people are so divided over the Aperol Spritz

EyesWideOpen/Getty ImagesA man enjoys an Aperol Spritz while taking in the view from a restaurant in Sicily in April 2018.
  • Food writer Rebekah Peppler sparked an intense online debate last week with her New York Times article, “The Aperol Spritz Is Not a Good Drink.”
  • Hundreds of commenters defended the classic Italian summer drink and several articles were published advocating for the spritz.
  • A taste expert told INSIDER that the drink may be off-putting to people who are sensitive to sweetness and bitterness. He also explained that people’s personal preferences don’t determine whether something is good or bad.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

The most intense internet debate last week focused not on politics or “Game of Thrones”, but the Aperol Spritz.

It all started on Thursday, when food writer Rebekah Peppler published an article titled “The Aperol Spritz Is Not a Good Drink” in The New York Times. In the story, Peppler argued that despite the Aperol Spritz’s increasing popularity, the cocktail was too sweet and often made with substandard ingredients.

What soon became evident is that not everyone agrees with this assessment. The article was quickly flooded with an avalanche of commenters defending the classic Italian aperitif, but many also backed Peppler.

It was clear that people either really love the drink, or really hate it.

To shed light on why the cocktail is so divisive, INSIDER reached out to taste expert John Prescott.

Prescott, who has spent his career studying how humans perceive food, said the drink may be off-putting to some parts of the population who are sensitive to sweetness and bitterness, the drink’s main taste notes.

Read more:
The New York Times says the Aperol Spritz, one of the most popular cocktails in the world, is ‘not a good drink.’ Here’s why they have got it all wrong.

Aperol spritzCraig Barritt/Getty Images for AYS Sports MarketingA row of Aperol Spritzes are seen on a table at an event in New York in August 2018.

However, Prescott said humans can learn to appreciate almost anything, even if they find it unenjoyable to drink at first.

“The overall principle is that we develop liking with increasing exposure,” Prescott said. “I didn’t drink Aperol before I started coming to Italy regularly, but now I like it, but only in the context of a spritz, which dilutes the sweetness considerably.”

So someone who has remained in the anti-Aperol camp is likely someone who has tried it once, had a strong reaction to it, and has never given it a second chance.

“Variations in sweet liking or sensitivity to bitterness can act as barriers to developing liking – that is, if something tastes unpleasant initially, you won’t be very motivated to keep trying it – and this is a pre-requisite for liking to develop,” Prescott said.

Science aside, Prescott said he had an issue with Peppler’s argument. He said the writer’s complaints seem to be that she doesn’t like the Aperol Spritz because it’s too sweet and is usually made poorly, using cheap prosecco.

While Prescott agrees that drinks should be made with good ingredients, he said a preference over sweetness shouldn’t factor into whether a drink is considered “good” or not, since there are “many” out there who do appreciate Aperol’s taste.

The writer offers some alternatives to Aperol in making a summer spritz, but Prescott again said this is a matter of personal preference and sensitivities to taste, not of whether a drink is good or bad.

“I felt that the writer suffers from a bit of snobbery here,” he said. “[She] seems to think that the drink’s popularity is somehow misguided, that drinkers should be far more sophisticated. [She] name-checks some more bitter drinks, many of which I like, but a substantial portion of [the] population find such beverages far too bitter.”

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