Know Your Liqueur: Campari How to get the most from this home bar essential

 

Pour and score. No grimoire of complex recipes needed. No fancy equipment required. Two-parts Campari,… one-part Campari,… half Campari/half soda… It’s all good. And ditto for all the other “Campari ands…”  We’ve mixed it with grapefruit juice, pomelo juice, orange juice, lemonade, tonic water, and ginger ale. Deep in the tropics of the Far East – Yunnan Province, not New Jersey – we’ve had it neat over ice as a nightcap.

What’s in Campari?

What can be known about Campari is this: Its dry ingredients are soaked in water for two days, mixed with alcohol and more water, and steeped in huge vats for 15 days. The color of the brew at the end of this period is brown, and the taste is bitter—really bitter, as in undrinkable. The liquid is then drained off into blending tanks and the macerated dregs are pressed for more juice, like a tea bag; the soggy remains are boiled to distill more alcohol. Finally, the sweetening syrup and the coloring—from cochineal dye (a commonly used colorant made from the dried bodies of cochineal insects)—are added. William Sertl, SAVEUR

 

What Should I Mix Campari With?

Stick to a fruit juices, teas, and soft-drink mixers that will compliment Campari’s distinct and wonderful bitterness. Nota bene that word, “complement.” Your aim is to complement the bitterness, not to hide, mask, or blunt it. You are unlikely to regret any well-considered experiment — and do experiment. Your concoction will taste better if you shake the Campari with ice, and add the mixer after pouring the Campari and ice into a glass. Which glass to use? Anything will work as long as it’s glass or crystal. Better to serve Campari in a ceramic coffee mug that says “I Love My Cat” than in a red plastic Solo cup. If you need to ask why, you’re beyond rescuing.

 

Pricey?

A bottle should cost between $25 and $30.

 

Do I Really Need This?

Yes. In fact, you need to buy a bottle today. Here’s why:

  • Campari is a classy, Old World aperitif. It was invented in 1860, which was quite a year. Future philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was born; the alkaloid profile of the coca plant became known as cocaine; a coalition of Western troops razed Beijing’s magnificent Summer Palace; and ante-bellum South Carolina became the first state to cede from the Union. None of this has anything to do with Campari, but if you remember these factoids you’ll have on-hand a few talking-points when serving a deserving guest a “Campari and…” Try mixing with a Loveland Lemon-Limeade.
  • “Vodka and…” is too easy, and we think too lowbrow for the discerning gentleman. If you’re drinking good vodka – really good vodka – you should be drinking it neat over ice and not defiling it with anything except the whiskers of your moustache. Campari is roughly 50-proof, and therefore doesn’t slingshot one immediately into inebriation. The joy of a Campari mixed-drink derives in part from the bitter flavor of Campari. Its signature flavor immediately seizes hold of one’s attention, and holds it. A “Campari and…” is quickly and easily made, and therein lies the other aspect of its enduring charm: a Campari cocktail is super easy to knock together, while its beguiling flavor compels you to take time to enjoy it.
  • Campari isn’t the only aperitif you’ll want on hand for summer, but it is in our opinion best enjoyed in summer. It shares a color found in the palette of the most glorious summer sunsets, the sexiest lipsticks, and the fastest Italian cars. If you never open the bottle, buy it and put it on display. You can’t afford not to have one handy.
Campari

Classic and contemporary Campari posters have been the gateway to this aperitif for many a Campari drinker.

Alpha male, or alfalfa male? You need an Alfa Romeo convertible, or at least some limoncello.