Just when you thought my season was over, I’m surprising you with a little mid-summer episode dedicated to a place and spirit I love.
If you’ve been listening to Lush Life for awhile you would probably know that I love Venice. If you are a first timer to Lush Life, Ill say it again I love Venice!
So how excited am I to be joined by my friend Rudi Carraro, Global Brand Ambassador of all of Gruppo Montenegro brands, including the very Venetian Select Aperitivo.
I’ll let Rudi tell you how Select and Venice go hand-in-hand while I sip my Select Spritz dreaming I’m on a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal.
Watch it on YouTube
Cocktail of the Week: Select Spritz
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Rudi. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!
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Susan: It’s really, really great to have you on the show again. Why don’t you introduce yourself and then we can get right to Select.
Rudi: Absolutely. Thank you for having me on the show again, Susan. Always nice to chat with you. For the people who don’t know me, my name is Rudi Carraro and I’m the Global Brand Ambassador for Gruppo Montenegro. And today we’re going to talk about Select Aperitivo.
Susan: Fabulous. Well, I guess, why don’t we start with the history. For everyone who may be watching this on YouTube, I am holding my Select Spritz, so I’m sure we’ll get to how this is made, what’s in it and why the olive. So go ahead and why don’t we start with little history.
Rudi: Absolutely. Absolutely. So Select is the original aperitivo from Venice, and well, Venice is the place where everything started. Two brothers, Mario and Vittorio Pilla decided to open a distillery in 1919 in the heart of Venice and, after finalizing the recipe, they managed to release Select recipe in the 1920.
So we’re happy to celebrate 103 years of history and Venetian heritage. From the very first beginning, of course, Select, we don’t think of it as a cocktail ingredient, but during those time it was just drink neat or maybe with a bit of soda or a bit of ice. And for this reason, it start to get huge success around the Venetian island, the Venetian region as well, and then shortly as well around Italy because the Pilla brothers, after seeing that it was having a good success, they decide to invest in a very big advertisement and marketing campaign that brought Select from a local Venetian aperitive to a countrywide aperitive.
When things started to get better in terms of revenue and business, the Pilla brothers started to have the idea to expand. And for this reason, unfortunately, in downtown Venice, there was no more room to expand because as you may know Venice is Venice.
Susan: It is pretty small.
Rudi: Because of canals and water, it’s difficult to build more there. So they decided to relocate the production just a few meters away, actually a few kilometers away from downtown Venice. I’m talking about Porto Marghera, the Marghera Harbor, which is still today, the main industrial port and harbor that is on the first piece of the mainland that you’ll find in Venice.
So they were still very close to the city, but at the same time, by moving the production plant to the mainland, they would have a better connection with the land in terms of getting the raw materials, as well as shipping it all over the country, but at the same time a much higher tech productive production plant.
These were the 1930’s. So in just 10 years’ time, the Pilla brothers found themselves with a very high-end efficiency for the time, of course a production plant that could cope with the demand for Select. So things were going very, very well, and the Pilla brothers couldn’t be happier.
Susan: I’m sure.
Rudi: Unfortunately though, there was the downtime that was the Second World War
and it was a very hard hit on the Pilla brothers. I went to explain why. The Marghera Harbor is actually a very strategic area because it’s in the Gulf of Venice. And of course it was transformed into a military base by the government that confiscated all the warehouses of the Pilla brothers and all the industry and the companies’ factories that were built there so that they could use it as a military base.
And for this reason, it became a target. They got heavily bombed during the Second World War. And this is the turning point because the Pilla brothers, after creating this amazing brand, after spending a lot of money and all the resources on building the new production plant, they found themself with nothing left.
So they had to wait until the conflict was over. This is actually the turning point because a lot of small brands completely disappeared after the Second World War. They were family run businesses or small businesses that didn’t have the financial strength or resources to start anew.
Luckily for us, the Pilla brothers did not give up and they relocated to the island of Murano, which is very famous for the glass blowing. They kept on going with a small production until a more prosperous times. So the end of the 1960s/1970s, La Dolce Vita style that everybody associate the black and white Italian movies, that is the time when Select started to, and the Aperitivo itself started, to become part of the Italian lifestyle.
That is the moment when we see Select being back to the volumes that it used to be consumed before, even more of course than the Second World War. At the same time, not only with ice or maybe with a bit of soda, but also part of the Select Spritz recipe or the original Venetian Spritz recipe that I’m going to maybe explain the origins of it a little bit later.
Susan: Yes, definitely. Murano is even smaller than Venice, so it must have been tiny. How long did it take until they realized, oh boy, Murano is just not going to be big enough. Or your place in Murano is not going to be big enough to handle all the quantity that was needed for all these aperitivi.
Rudi: So basically, the Pilla brothers, when they couldn’t cope with the volumes around the 19060s, they found some outside help from an investor who relocated the production, not in Venice, but in Bologna.
That is the reason why, in 1988, Gruppo Montenegro acquired the Pilla brands, including Select. And, well, until, as you may know, last May the production was still in Bologna, but now we are proudly back into Venice, but I’m going to tell you a bit more details on it in a second.
Susan: I know I’ve been there and I can’t wait for everyone to hear about it. Of course, we don’t know what the Pilla brothers thought, but it must have been a little bit heartbreaking for them to leave Venice and go to Bologna, even though it was great for them to get outside investment. I understand that and how lovely it would be if they were still alive to know that it was back in Venice.
Rudi: Exactly, Exactly, So hopefully we did right to them. Thanks to Gruppo Montenegro, long vision and investment plan. In 2018, the process of bringing Select back to Venice started. So the company acquired a beautiful building, and then, unfortunately, the pandemic delayed the project a little bit.
But we managed to open our new home in May 2023, the new home of Select in downtown Venice which is called Ca Select. We’ve proudly taken back the production to the original, city of Select. At the same time we also have a visitor center. We have a conference space as well and of course a beautiful state-of-the-art bar!
I could talk about it for hours, but I wouldn’t give justice to it because the only way to appreciate it is actually to see it in person. So whenever you come down to Venice, you or anyone that is listening right now drop me a message and we can take you around.
Susan: Oh, it is fabulous. I was so lucky. I was there a few months, actually a month ago, and it looks glorious. It’s really, really fabulous and a great home for Select.
I’m not sure if you know what the Pilla brothers were thinking on why to create Select and how to create Select and what to put in it, but could you give us whatever information that you have or that’s in the record books.
Rudi: Yes, absolutely. So you have to imagine that, at that time, Venice was already established as the heart of the spice trade, the silk route, back in the days of Marco Polo’s travels. So it was a busy place where ingredients from all around the world was coming into Europe.
Basically the Pilla brothers decided that they would create this very unique recipe, not using just Italian ingredients, but using all the ingredients that they had at their disposition, which were an array of different ingredients, botanicals coming from all around the world. For this reason still today, the recipe of Select contains 30 different botanicals.
That, of course, as I said, comes from all around the world and constitutes the heart, the, the essence of, Select itself because, what we are right now, we are the, of course, the original recipe from Venice, and at the same time, the ingredient for the original Venetian Spritz and the taste needs to be very distinguished.
So that’s our signature and that’s why we have this very well-balanced flavor profile, which is not too bitter, which is not too sweet, and, is very long lingering, persisting because some of the key botanicals that we use in Select are the juniper berries. We don’t treat them in any way because, we macerate them and then we distill them so we don’t have to worry about anything that comes from outside. So, in this way, we keep all the resin, all the essential oils that we need to have a very nice fragrant, juniper distillate.
The second botanical, which is very important for Select, is the rhubarb, which is the rhubarb rhizome that comes all the way from China, which is the best country where you can buy rhubarb rhizome. The rhubarb goes undergo the maceration extraction processor. And since it is a hard botanical to extract flavors from, well, to extract the flavors as we like from them, as the Pilla brothers did, only to extract the rhubarb flavors. It take us three months only for that particular ingredient.
Susan: Oh, boy!
Rudi: Yes. We keep things like the Pilla brother used to do. And then we have, I would say classic, but let’s say a more known botanical when it comes to bitter liquors, which is the Artemesia or wormwood, which gives a long, bitter, lingering finish to Select and is basically the sensation that makes you want to go back to the second sip and the second spritz as well.
Then we have other botanicals that if you look at the bottle of Select, they’re hidden in the label which are bitter orange, cardamon and some mace as well.
Susan: Well, yes. Let’s talk about the label before we talk about the spritz.
Susan: I have the gorgeous bottle here, and has it changed much since the beginning?
Rudi: So basically, in 2018 what we did was the company wanted to bring a much more modern approach to all the brands of the company, including Select. So we went with the design and the label of the bottle to what was the original style. Also to get ready for the 100 year anniversary that we celebrated in 2020.
What we wanted to do is to return to the original. So if you look at the bottle, if you can just Google Select from the 1920’s, from the 1930’s, as soon it was born, the bottle and the label, basically they looked the same. This is just a modern version of it. So we really wanted to give Select the prestige. Since the recipe has never changed since the 1920’s, well, we went back to the original bottle and label as well.
Susan: Of course, and I love that Pilla is front and center for the boys who started it.
Rudi: Absolutely. So what we say about our brands is that they’re talking bottles. Because on the front label you have all the key information about the brand. So you got the 1920s, Select, the Pilla brothers, a bit repetitive.
Susan: And made in Venice!
Rudi: Made in Venice! Exactly. And then if you turn around, there are a few tips on how to make the perfect original Venetian Spritz and of course a bit of history as well.
Susan: Of course, and just in case you don’t know again how to make the spritz, you’ve got it here again.
Rudi: Correct. We have the neck hanger, which are important when it comes to consumers because we are from the industry, so we know how to make a spritz, but there are a few people around who maybe they’re interested about the bottle, but they really know what to do with it. So this is a very nice way on how to explain how to use the product.
Susan: And you make it in a very specific way, as I said, with the green olive. So why don’t you let us know how that evolved that your spritz, the original Venetian spritz evolved.
Rudi: Absolutely. So as you may heard already, the spritz came into existence in the Venetian area in Venice because, at the end of the 1800’s and beginning of the 1900’s, the whole area was still under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The legend says that the people ruling Venice at the time were soldiers.
They were going around the city asking for glasses of wine from the bartenders from the local bars, the bacaro, but they would find it too strong, too high in acidity, too high ABV for them. So they would often ask to splash, to spritzen, a little bit of soda water inside the glass of wine, just to make it a little easier to drink.
From spritzen, the spritz, hence the name Spritz. And this is the very first idea, prototype recipe of the spritz. So why wine and soda water? We need to wait to the f1950’s to see the introduction of the bitter inside the spritz recipe because, as I mentioned before, even though Select was born in the 1920, well, it was not popular as a spritz ingredient yet.
The spritz recipe and Select consumption were on a parallel line. On one line, people were drinking white wine and soda water as a spritz with on the other line Select with ice and soda water. Okay. These two recipes, these two lines meet around the 1950’s.
After the dark time of the Second World War was over, basically what happened, like for the Negroni, there was a regular customer who walked into his favorite bacaro who had a very harsh day and asked the bartender to make the spritz with more of a kick.
The bartender just turned around, took the bottle of Select and added a splash of Select into the basic spritz recipe, and this is the introduction of the bitter into the spritz recipe. Then we need to wait until the 1970’s. The famous time I already mentioned before where the aperitivo moment start to become one together with Italian lifestyle.
When all the people could not go home before doing an aperitivo. Or sometimes they would just forget to go home and they would just like carry on with aperitivo until later in the evening, that we see the recipe changing for the last time because, well, the Select is not a splash anymore, but it’s became a true solid part and the predominant flavor in there.
At the same time, we see the switch from white wine to prosecco that until then, prosecco was just considered the farmer’s wine from the hills outside Venice. But slowly, slowly, the technique implemented, the flavor started to get better and it became the local wine for not only the Venetian hills, Valdobbiadene, etc., etc., but also to Venice downtown.
When it made it into Venice downtown, well, it was easy to replace the white wine for those sexier, appealing version of the sparkling wine that completes the recipe.
Susan: Of course.
Rudi: So three parts of prosecco, two parts of Select, one splash of soda water to stay true to the origin. And at the same time, we need our signature in our Select Spritz which is our olive. So we garnish our spritz with the green olive. And this is because we want to stay close to tradition. The Venetian tradition of the bacaros, the local bars, where you always have something to eat with your Select Spritz.
So you go to your bar, you order your Select Spritz, and then you have some cicchetti. Now this word is quite famous all around the world and cicchetti means a small bite, something to nibble while you drink your spritz. Then you carry on with your day. So the olive is only there to represent the fact that you always eat something while you sip your spritz.
And at the same time, by adding olives that are kept in brine, you really add a savory, salty texture that really gives to the original Venetian Spritz, an umami flavor that completes the recipe itself. And then don’t worry, it’s up to you if you want to bite it at the beginning, in the middle of your experience or if you want to leave it there until the end and then bite it at the end. So there is no rule on that, just, as you feel like to do it.
Susan: I love it. No rules. You know what? I always think of the olive as just being a normal thing, obviously, because I’ve had the spritz in Venice so many times and that it is a true aperitivo. If you’re going to drink it before dinner, why would you have anything other an olive in it? Because as you said, it adds that little bit of umami saltiness.
And by the way, I like it after. Because then it’s got all the delicious Select and prosecco and everything is in it. I love it. I love it. It’s a fabulous drink. So is there anything else that we should know about Select?
Rudi: Oh, well, if you want to get your memory refreshed, there is always our beautiful website, which is selectaperitivo.com. And as I said, Ca Select is our new visitor center, it’s going to be up and running soon in Venice. I’m saying soon because we still have to tweak a couple of things before being fully open, every single day.
Susan: Oh, and of course in May, I had just missed Spritz Week.
Rudi: Oh yes!
Susan: So will you be doing that again next year?
Rudi: Absolutely. Spritz Week is basically our way to celebrate the original Venetian Spritz, so the Select spritz. It’s an activation that we do. We started in May 2023. Now we’re going to do it every year. So we going to celebrate Select around Venice, as well around the world, because with our partners all around the world, we also going to do activation.
We’re going to do summer terraces where we bring the region of Venetian spirit to the Select experience and a touch of Venice all around the world, in London, in New York, in Singapore. So, you might be around the world, but still be able to enjoy the true Venetian moment of the aperitivo with Select.
Susan: Great, great. And if anyone is in London, I saw that you’re doing it at one of my favorite bars, which is Fam in Marylebone, so you can definitely have the Select Spritz right there. There’s a beautiful terrace. It’s outside. Everyone was enjoying them yesterday.
Rudi: Absolutely. Or, at the same time you can just head down to South Bank and do all the promenade. Beautiful. And when you are in front of Tower Bridge, you’re going to see the beautiful Select Spritz bar where you can enjoy our spritz and a beautiful view of Tower Bridge.
Susan: All right. Well, everyone should look for it all over the world. Thank you so much, Rudi. This is great. I already have my Spritz, by the way, in a Murano glass. A true, true Venetian, true Venetian Spritz. And, it’s a great summer drink and I really thank you for taking the time to tell us all about the history and have a great summer everyone.
Rudi: Thank you very much, Susan and until next time.
Susan: Yes, absolutely.
Rudi: Thank you. Bye. Bye. Ciao
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