The Dirty Bicicletta is a breezy sipper of Campari, wine, soda water and citron flavored soda, called cedrata. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago TribuneTNS)

Holding onto summer with an Italian drink that got a little dirty

It’s a malleable recipe that invites improvisation, which leads us today to the Dirty Bicicletta.

When is a bicycle not a bicycle? When it’s a cocktail, of course. The Bicicletta (bicycle in Italian), is a decades-old breezy cocktail in the spritz family that rolled up again a few years back. Made with Campari, white wine and soda water, it nails the spritz formula of base bitter aperitivo, wine and something bubbly to stretch and lighten the drink.

It’s a malleable recipe that invites improvisation, which leads us today to the Dirty Bicicletta.

For a summer weekend away, we needed a house drink. But something new, and something simple. Who wants to think too much? See, inventing a drink is actually really tricky. Getting the balance right is not child’s play _ not for bartenders, let alone beginners. It’s best to start with something that always works, to riff on a classic. The Boulevardier fits that strategy: The equal-parts drink subbed the gin in Negroni with whiskey, and became a classic itself. That gave us permission to mess with the Bicicletta.

Though it’s faded from menus, supplanted by other spritzes (which in turn are surely fading), it has a long history. In her 2016 book “Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes,” Talia Baiocchi, writes that the Bicicletta dates to 1930s Italy, and was supposedly named “for the mode of transportation in which its drinkers toddle home after several drinks at the local cafe.” OK, whatever, with that Italian folk tale.

Regardless, my riff started with cedrata, an Italian soda made from citron, a citrus fruit that gets made into things over in Europe, but not over here. We don’t have Mountain Citron. Or 7-Up Citron. But I’ve been taken with Italian sodas, and this one, by Baladin, the craft beer maker in Piozzo, Italy, is a bit tart, not that sweet, with a dry finish. I wondered what it would do to a Bicicletta. Make it sweeter?

No, it turns out. It actually brings out the bitterness of the Campari. Which is good, because the wine and soda tamed that flavor too much for us. So the drink was born, pronounced good by all, and stirred up in quantity. Which meant it needed a name, to hold on to its memory. Adding the cedrata messed with the formula _ muddied it, you could say. Hence: Dirty Bicicletta.

I won’t be so arrogant as to compare its chances of longevity to the 1920s-era Boulevardier. But I will say it will help you hold onto summer.

___

DIRTY BICICLETTA

Makes: 1 drink

2 ounces Campari

2 ounces dry white or rose Italian wine

1 ounce cedrata soda, or to taste

1 ounce club soda or sparkling water, or to taste

1 wedge orange

Pour the Campari, wine and cedrata into an ice-filled wine glass. Top with the soda, to taste. Garnish with the orange wedge.

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