Select The Right Bitter Aperitif With Tad Carduicci

Select Aperitivo may not be as well known as some other aperitivo liqueurs but it’s the original ingredient in an authentic Venetian Spritz

By: Tiff Christie|August 31,2021

Aperitivo comes from the Latin meaning to open. Traditionally, it refers to a pre-dinner, appetite-stimulating drink, yet the word can also be applied to the opening of flavours within a drink, as well as the social moments with friends that these drinks can create. 

Select aperitivo has been a favourite in Venice for over a hundred years, with the bright red liqueur drunk in cafes and bars across the city and around the grand canal. 

To find out more, we talk to Tad Carduicci, Director Of Outreach for Gruppo Montenegro about Venetian aperitif culture, their 30 botanicals and, of course, the cocktails that you can make with it. 

For more information, go to or or connect with the brand via Instagram @selectaperitivousa


Read Full Transcript

Aperitivo comes from the Latin meaning to open. Traditionally, it refers to a pre-dinner appetite stimulating drink, yet the word can also be applied to the opening of flavours within a drink, as well as the social moments with friends that these drinks can create.
Select aperitivo has been a favourite in Venice for over a hundred years, with the bright red liqueur drunk in cafes and bars across the city and around the grand canal.
To find out more, we talk to Tad Carducci, Director Of Outreach for Gruppo Montenegro about Venetian aperitif culture, their 30 botanicals and, of course, the cocktails that you can make with it.
Thanks for joining us Tad.
Tad: Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure.
Tiff: Select was created just after world war 1, can you tell us what was happening in Venice that helped the aperitif gain its popularity?
Tad: Sure. Prior to world war II, Venice was one of the most important hubs for travel and tourism during the golden age of Europe. And just an incredibly vibrant, dynamic city. And during world war one, it was ravaged financially, especially, and then after World War I, there was this intense and pretty immediate desire to recapture that and recapture that sort of idea of being this crown jewel of travel and tourism in Europe, in Italy. So there was this just intense need to recapture that idea, the vibrance and the the sort of familial aspect and the joys of people being together.
So it created this tremendous draw for social gatherings and for everything surrounding that. And as we know, Italians are masterful at putting together food and drink that stimulate that for people and bring people to the table.
Tiff: Rediscovering life's pleasures in 1920s Venice has echoes to what's happening today. How important are those aperitivo moments?
Tad: Absolutely. That's a great point. And I think probably it's never been more important, certainly in our history than now. The idea of the aperitivo bringing people together. The idea of an aperitivo is to unwind after putting in a full day's work, joining friends, joining family, and just celebrating the very simple moments of life.
And I think after 2020 and what we've gone through thus far at the beginning of this year, It's never been more important for us to connect with those that we missed, that we haven't seen, in very simple and very meaningful ways and the idea of the aperitivo allows us to do that.
I think it's also very interesting that most aperitivo drinks have at least some measure of bitterness in them, whether it's a spritz or an Americano or multiple other drinks that can be drunk as an aperitivo, but that bitterness is very interesting. It wakes us up to be alert and to pay attention to those with whom we are having conversations so that we can gather with our friends with intention
Tiff: And be in the moment, I assume.
Tad: Absolutely.
Tiff: Now, can you tell us a little about the brothers who created Select?
Tad: Sure. Mario and Victorio Pilla. They were actually, they were two very enterprising young guys. They hailed from another beautiful city in Italy, Bologna, very well healed, very artistic, very craft-oriented city.
And they understood the importance of Venice and the importance of helping to revitalize Venice. So instead of opening their distillery to make liqueurs and brandies and aperitivo bitters, they chose to move the operation and build it in the centre, the absolute centre, the historical centre of Venice. So they did that and launched Select aperitivo in 1920.
Tiff: Were they famous for any of the other things that they ...?
Tad: Yes. They became famous for Brandy that they made called Oro Gold, OR O, which is still in existence in other countries today. I don't believe I've ever seen it here but Select really became their masterpiece their benchmark. And that's what became famous, not only in and around Venice, but also throughout Italy. But it almost immediately became adopted as the official aperitivo of the city of Venice and the surrounding area.
Tiff: Now outside of Italy most people would be familiar with a Venetian spirits style drink made with Aperol. But Select was actually the first ingredient to be used in that aperitivo style.
Tad: Yes. Yes. It's. It wouldn't be, it wouldn't be an Italian story without some measure of mystery and intrigue, and maybe some rivalry, but yes, select is, and was, the original, aperitivo of Venice.
Aperol was actually created in another very beautiful city called Padua, south of Venice, not within the city. Also delicious and makes a terrific cocktail but not the original ingredient in the original Venetian spritz or a spritz Veneziano. We very fervently maintain that Select holds that mantle.
Tiff: That must be a little bit frustrating for you guys.
Tad: It is, but it's also, again, it speaks to the pride and that sort of Italian fire. We will maintain it now and forever. It's frustrating because Aperol is I guess ubiquitous around the United States and other parts of the world when it comes to the spritz. And it's a bit frustrating for us, for consumers not to understand that the spritz is really a model and the spirits can be made with a variety of things, the original spritz being made with Select. But we are working diligently every day to help those consumers expand their horizons when it comes to aperitivo, when it comes to bitters, and when it comes to the spritz.
Tiff: Now, if people have tried other aperitifs in a spritz format, how would you describe Select as being different?
Tad: Let's say we take the two brands that are most well-known throughout the world, which represent really the opposite ends of the spectrum of the category of aperitivo liqueur, being Aperol on the light, floral, citrusy side and then Campari at the other end which is much more robust, much more astringent, much, much more bitter, also citrusy and also delicious.
What's wonderful, what's happening now around the world is that more and more brands are coming into the fold and people are understanding that it's not just those two, but that all the space in between is being filled and that there are these wonderful array of flavour profiles.
So we with Select are very optimistic and very confident that we represent the one that is the most balanced, certainly in my estimation, the most elegant of the brands that are starting to become known now. Select is certainly assertive, it's got some beautifully elegant bitterness, but it's got a bit of fortitude that the bitterness is certainly there, but it's wonderfully balanced by a whole variety of other flavours.
Tiff: Each of these liquors that you're talking about almost represents the areas from which they derive within Italy
Tad: Oftentimes. Yeah. Oftentimes they do when it comes to this particular category of aperitivo liqueur or sometimes known as a red bitter. Usually, the ones that would be called red bitters are the brands that are more similar to Campari, they are more bitter, they're more robust. They're generally higher in alcohol, but really all of the brands within this category, the bulk of them come from Northern Italy, all the way across the board from Terino and the Piedmont s, all the way across to Venice. So it's really more of a Northern Italian tradition whereas Amaro, which would be traditionally a digestive or a digestivo, those come really from around the country.
And yes, oftentimes they are emblematic or representative of the ingredients from that area. With Select, it's very interesting. The Republic of Venice really dominated the world's economy for about 800 years, from, let's say the seventh, eighth century up until the 15 hundreds or so. And what truly dominated that economy was the trade of luxury goods, like silks, fragrances and things of that nature, but most importantly, spices from far-flung corners of the globe. Venice was really the hub of the spice trade. And what's great about Select is that of the 30 botanical ingredients that represent Select, they're really this beautiful harmony and amalgamation of many of those ingredients from Southeast Asia, from Africa, from the Far East, from all over the globe, that are beautifully intertwined and put into the bottle.
Tiff: Now, talking about the spices and botanicals, are you able to outline what some of those 30 botanicals actually are?
Tad: Again like many good Italian stories, it is shrouded in mystery and secrets as with most brands, but of the 30, I can I could happily share the two that we find most important when it comes to the defining of the flavour profile and those would be Juniper Berries which I think most listeners would recognise or associate with gin. And we make a distillation of hand-selected Juniper berries, and that brings this beautiful, bright Piney freshness, this eucalyptus walking through a pine forest sort of freshness that really opens everything up when it's the first flavour note.
And then counter that we use rhubarb root and rhubarb root brings this beautifully powerful, elegant, woodsy, roasted bitterness. And that's what we, that's what we use; that's the primary element that we use to make Select aperitivo bitter. So those are the two primary, in addition to that citrus peels and spaces like Mason, cloves. And that's about as far as I can go with that, without losing my job. Yeah.
Tiff: How many people do know the actual recipe?
Tad: A very small handful. Our master herbalist, obviously. He and his team are responsible for the whole kit and caboodle, from the purchasing of those botanicals and the storing of those botanicals to the entire production process.
Select members, select, no pun intended, of his team are aware of the full recipe. And then one or two of the board of directors or owners of the company and probably, some Swami's sitting on the top of a mountaintop in Nepal somewhere, I'm not really sure.
Tiff: Excellent. With those flavours though, what ones are dominant? What will people taste if they haven't tasted it before?
Tad: People will certainly get that sort of eucalyptus, balsamic freshness from the Juniper berries. Loads and loads of citrus, but more a sort of a grapefruit or Kumquat or Clementine, Mandarin citrus, then like a straight sweet orange peel, something like that. For me, ginger, fresh ginger root is a big part of the flavour profile. And then cinnamon and cloves and those really warm sort of tropical spices here in the states.
We call them baking spices and we associate them with winter, which I always find funny because where they're from in India, Sri Lanka, the Spice Islands, the Moluccas, there is no winter and those flavours are cooling flavours actually. So lots of that and then tightly wrapped up with that really elegant assertive bitterness from the Rhubarb root.
Tiff: Would you consider it to be a little less bitter than some of its competitors?
Tad: I would call it medium bitterness. It's certainly a more bitter than some, it's more bitter than Aperol, as I mentioned before. But decidedly, less bitter than brands like Campari. So it's exceptionally well balanced. It's assertive, it's robust. It is present but never overwhelmingly bitter.
Tiff: Now, can you tell us what your ideal recipe for a Select Venetian spritz would be?
Tad: I can indeed. And it couldn't be simpler. It's the rule of 3, 2, 1. And that's the parts required to make the cocktail. And it's three parts of a chilled Prosecco, two parts of Select Aperitivo, one part of chilled soda or seltzer.
All of that is poured into a beautiful glass over ice, stirred gingerly and lovingly. And then very importantly for us, garnished with a green olive and we always recommend Castroville Toronto olive or something similar. That's our hallmark and it's a very Italian thing to see a green olive used as a cocktail garnish and a variety of different drinks.
Tiff: And that's bringing in a little bit of salt to the mix, I assume.
Tad: Absolutely. It's bringing salinity, it's bringing a nice sort of savoury aspect, of pop of colour, but for us, it's very important because when we think of aperitivo, when we think of having these drinks after work, the whole idea, again bringing people together, but also opening up our appetites, aperitivo is to open, opening up our appetites to then have dinner a couple of hours later, but it's always a hand-in-hand with some small bites of food in Venice, they would be called Chichetti. You might know them as antipasti, plates of nuts or ham and cheese or potato chips and things of that nature, and almost always olives. So we are giving that to our guests, right on top of their drank like a little tapa as it would be in Spain or something like that to get them warmed up and get them started
Tiff: Now talking of food pairings, would you say that olives are the best little foods to have with this.
Tad: All of us are certainly one of the best bites. Again, that the brinyness does pair very well with everything that's going on in the Venetian spritz or the Select Spritz. But so does cured meats, prosciutto or Copa or even things like mortadella, all kinds of salamis, salumi, because you get the fat and the spice and the salts as well. Mixed nuts go very well. But so do things like oysters. We've found out through our own testing really that oysters and shellfish, anything with umami sort of flavours really goes very well.
I think the beauty of Select and the Select Spritz, the Venetian Spritz, is that it really represents the entire spectrum of flavours in the glass. So you have sweet, a little sour, salty, bitter. And there's a savoury quality too. So really anything it's paired with latches onto some element within the Select, whether it's a spice or an herb or citrus or something like that and pull something out. So it's almost foolproof when it comes to pairing with food. We pair it with chocolate, especially, a less sweet very high percentage chocolate, all kinds of tropical fruits and things like that as well. And I have had them with Thai food, Indian food, Vietnamese food, Costa Rican food and every regional Italian food one could have I have and it works very well.
Tiff: So it pretty much goes with anything by the sounds
Tad: Pretty much. That's what I, that's what I'm getting at there. It does indeed.
Tiff: Now aperitivo liqueurs are relatively lower in alcohol than general spirits. Why do you think that's important now?
Tad: Yes, you're absolutely correct, they generally are. Select Aperitivo is 17 and a half percent alcohol. So it's certainly more so, than a beer or a glass of wine, but less spiritists than vodka or gin or rum or bourbon or other distilled spirits. It's important with the aperitivo tradition because it's meant to be just something light and refreshing and rejuvenating. Again, moving into a longer evening where dinner would include wine and then possibly some sort of digestivo. So it's warming the body. Not trying to rocket to sleep or anything like that. So that's why it's lighter in the alcoholic side, but now I think it's very important because now as the world opens back up, we want more time out and about with our friends and family. So consuming something that's lower in ABV allows us to extend our enjoyment, stay out longer. And I think it's, we're also in a culture now globally, where people are drinking better. Yeah. Better spirits, better liquors and wines and beers, and are more conscious of the amount of alcohol that they're drinking.
They want to drink for flavour and the pleasure of the experience. Not necessarily to have more alcohol in their system and certainly not to have the bi-product of the next morning, in the way of a hangover from too much alcohol or, the deleterious effects of alcohol.
I think it's multifold but it really makes a lot of sense. I know that personally, I love drinking lower alcohol aperitivo-style drinks, like an Americano, like a vermouth and soda, sometimes an amaro and tonic and a spritz, because it allows me to be part of the experience and to truly enjoy it, but to have a little bit more control over the course of a longer evening.
Can I share one little geeky piece of trivia and information, that's that I always find relevant to this whole category and the idea of aperitivo?
Tiff: Please do
Tad: Bitterness in nature, for the animal kingdom and especially for us as humans, is a warning sign for poison and intense bitterness tells us 'stay away from me. I am going to kill you if you eat me in large quantity'. So when we consume something bitter, the brain automatically sends a message to the digestive system to flip all the switches, go on overload and get everything out, expel whatever it is we've just consumed, so that we have the best possible fighting chance at survival.
Now if we dial back the dosage, let's say of the bitter or whatever we've consumed, to just a very small amount. And this is true of aperitivo liqueur, of coffee bitter greens and things like that. If it's just a very small amount of bitterness, the brain says, 'we could have a problem here, I don't want anybody to worry, but let's just be on alert'. So we start to salivate, the stomach starts to grumble, blood kind of starts to rush to the stomach and things like that. Just in case something were to happen. And that's why we get hungry after consuming things like the Venetian Spritz.
Tiff: Interesting.
Tad: I just think it's very cool. It's blindly obvious, but not something any of us would ever think about. I just happened to have a lot of time on my hands when I think about these things.
Tiff: But it's a great way to describe it. Now, when people drink Select, what is it that you want people to take away from the experience?
Tad: Joy, happiness, deliciousness. For me, I'm in love with Select, so I'm in love with the history of it, the place from once it comes. So when I drink it for me, it's it's a very complete experience and event, but really, I think it's just the idea.
As I mentioned before of opening up their pallets and flavour horizons to the idea that this category has a very wide variety and array of flavours, flavour profiles available, not just the ones that they've seen and that they know, and to not be afraid to try new things and new preparations and that they can find in a very simple way with the Venetian Spritz, something very unique and very satisfying and also tremendously easy to make at home. Again, following that sort of 3, 2, 1 model.
Tiff: Aperitivo is was very much an Italian and European tradition, but it's not necessarily a tradition everywhere. Has it been difficult to explain the logic behind that to other countries where it hasn't been established?
Tad: No, what I'm finding especially in the States and in North America, consumers are really open to and adoptive of the idea of the aperitivo and what it represents.
I think for many of us we came up with the idea of the happy hour. And understand that the happy hour is a time when you leave work and you scramble to the bar, so that you get two for one drinks and it can be whatever it is, discounted drinks and maybe a big plate of free chicken wings or something like that.
But the culture is there. So the idea of just reworking it and readjusting it and showing people a way to have it be a little more light, a little more festive and oftentimes a lot more tasty and satisfying, hasn't been all that hard. I also think that all things Italian while they've always been popular, when it comes to food and drink, always been popular around the world, really seem to be having a resurgence, a Renaissance and more and more people are interested in that part of the Italian culture. So it's a very trendy thing right now in other parts of the world outside of Italy and outside of Europe.
Tiff: Now you mentioned the recipe for the Venetian spritz with Select, are there any other ways that you could drink this liqueur?
Tad: Absolutely. For me, it's very simple when I think about it, Select is a bitter and in cocktail bars all over the world, when one walks into a cocktail bar, what do we see lining the shelves of the bar, but little bottles of bitters that are dropped in, in a dropper or in dashes into basically every cocktail that's made behind the bar. .
Select and aperitivo liqueur, aperitivo bitters are the same thing, they are just drinkable on their own, and one can use more of them. So I like to tell people, try Select aperitivo in almost any type of cocktail. Just add 15 mils, or a half of an ounce for us, to a margarita, a daiquiri, an old fashioned and espresso martini, pretty much anything one can think of and it, what it will do, at the very least is tie the flavors together, bring a slightly bitter, but herbaceous, savory, bittersweet, floral, citrusy element to that drink. So it really works well in a wide variety of drinks. My favorite way to drink it is in a Tiki style, tropical style cocktails. There's a drink called the Jungle Bird, in which Select really shines. And it's just, it's a combination of dark rum, pineapple juice, lime juice and Select aperitivo shaken and served over crushed ice. And it's absolutely wonderful. It's truly delicious.
My other favourite way to drink it is with an ice cold lager or pilsner, if I'm drinking one out of a bottle, I will take a hearty sip and replace what I have sipped with an ounce or so of Select and it's delicious. It makes a sort of Shandy style refreshing sort of beer cooler, and it's really delicious.
Tiff: Select works so well with variety of spirits, have there been some interesting cocktails that bartenders have created with the liqueur?
Tad: Created? Absolutely. And also riffed on a variety of classics. So there are drinks, like obviously the Negroni is a classic that has had a massive Renaissance around the world, and many bartenders have taken to creating their own kind of renditions or variations on the Negroni, still modelled around the basic parts or formula for the drink. But there are other versions made with bourbon whiskey or rye whiskey. There's one called the Boulevardier, we call ours the Boulevardieretti, adding a little Italian twist to it. Mezcal Negroni's, Tequila Negroni's made with Select. What's really lovely about Select is that it sort of polishes off the rough edges that some might find in a Negroni, if it's maybe just a bit too intense for them or too bitter for them, because select a little less bitter and a little less alcoholic then Campari or other bitters that they might typically associate with that drink. It really makes it a little bit softer and a bit more approachable, but again, as I said the tropical drinks, Tiki drinks, the traditional Paloma that's a combination of a tequila, grapefruit lime, and a little bit of salt, with the addition of a nice little slug of Select is absolutely delicious as well. So what I see in my travels is bartenders taking these models and plugging Select in and having fun and getting creative, just riffing off of a lot of these types of drinks.
Tiff: Now, obviously Select is available throughout Italy. Is it available throughout the US?
Tad: It is becoming more and more available throughout the US day by day at a wide variety of retail stores around the country, and then through services, online services like Drizzly and Reserve Bar as well. And anybody who is interested can log on and do a little research about Select and look us up at and find out where to buy.
Tiff: And what about elsewhere on the globe..
Tad: Elsewhere in the globe, Select is available throughout Europe and in parts of Asia as well. And if anybody's in Canada it's widely available in Canada as well.
Tiff: Cool. All right, Tad look, thank you so much for joining us. As you said if people want more information, they can go to your website, which is select aparitivo dot us, or alternatively, dot it.
Tad: Correct
Tiff: People can also connect with the brand on your socials.
Tad: They can indeed, they can follow us at the same credentials as the website or the same addresses, @selectaperitivo, @selectaperitivousa
Tiff: Excellent. And that's across Instagram, Facebook,
Tad: That, that would primarily be Instagram. That's our primary platform.
Tiff: All right, Ted, look, thank you so much for taking the time
Tad: Oh, thank you so much. It's my pleasure.

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