The Hugo Spritz or Alpine Spritz (pronounced ‘Ugo’ by Italians) originated in the northern Italian region Alto-Adige, an area intimately familiar with herbal use in both culinary and medicinal matters, and one where the elderberry plant thrives in summer. From the genus Sambucus, elderberry is a hardy, fast-growing flowering bush widespread throughout Italy and Europe, and the small, white flowers of Sambucus nigra in particular (European elderberry or simply sambuco in Italian) are used to make a delicious, delicate cordial—Hugo’s star ingredient. (Note that elderflower cordial/syrup is not to be confused with that bottled nastiness known as Sambuca, similar only in name to sciroppo di Sambuco.)
As with so many Italian specialties, a touch of rivalry characterizes Hugo’s birth-story, particularly intriguing given that the two barmen in contention for inventor credit both hail from South Tyrol, and neither seems ready to renounce his claim on Hugo. Was it Roland Gruber who, while working in a wine bar in Naturns near Bolzano created the Hugo some 10 years ago? Very possibly, yet apparently Gruber named the Hugo without any particular reason, a fluky bit of inadvertence I find a little dubious, frankly. There’s also some debate as to whether Gruber originally used elderflower or another type of herb cordial. So could it have been Filippo Debertol of the Val di Fassa area instead, who has said he started mixing elderflower cordial with wine, seltzer, and mint around the same time? Debertol’s story would seem to hold up better under scrutiny: young Debertol named the drink after an elderly gentleman who would visit the family’s Alpine cabin, always bringing with him a gift of his own homemade elderflower syrup. The old man’s name? Hugo, of course.
(An aside: While researching today, I came across a discussion (in Italian) on Wikipedia from late 2013 in which Debertol’s attempts to modify the Italian entry for Hugo (cocktail) were repeatedly removed, with the explanation ‘your changes reflect something completely different from what the sources indicate, and for this reason I have restored the prior text.’— a literal cocktail copyright battle being played out on Wikipedia! See below.)
Italians love their food (and drink) debates, and this one is not going away any time soon, I imagine. No matter. The important thing is someone invented this delightful concoction, which I highly recommend adding to your summer cocktail repertoire.
6 cl Prosecco
6 cl seltzer
3 cl elderflower cordial
fresh mint leaves
Put ice in the glass. Pour in the Prosecco and cordial, followed by the seltzer. Stir gently. Garnish with fresh mint and a lemon slice (optional).