Do you love the bitter sweetness of Campari? It lends its bracing bite to some of our favorite classic cocktails: The Negroni, and the Americano, for instance. Well, if you like Campari too, you need to try Gran Classico from Tempus Fugit. Newly returned to the American market, this vintage aperitif is quite a lot like Campari, but even more interesting.
Gran Classico was developed in the 1860s, when it was known as the Italian Bitters of Turin. Supposedly the original Campari took its base recipe inspiration from Gran Classico, and both took off internationally. But eventually Gran Classico dropped off the market because of its use of wormwood — a banned substance in the US until 2007. (It's also used in absinthe.)
So while Campari became world-renowned, Gran Classico dimmed in the cocktail world. It was rediscovered in Switzerland by the owners of Petaluma-based company Tempus Fugit. Its owners were blown away by its depth of flavor and handcrafted taste. Its brilliant salmon color owes nothing to artificial coloring, unlike Campari.
It also is purported to taste much more like the original Campari. Campari changed its formula a few years ago and spirits lovers have complained that it became more one-dimensional. Gran Classico has a full roundness of flavor that is a little more interesting than Campari — to me at least.
So, what does this stuff taste like? Personally, I don't like it straight. It comes across the palate just like cough syrup. Then there's aromatic bitterness, and a lingering finish. It's interesting, but not what I want to drink all by itself.
In mixed drinks, though, it really shines. A Negroni made with Gran Classico takes on an elusive sweetness around the edges, and a much longer finish. My current favorite drink, which depends completely on Gran Classico (not nearly as good with Campari) is an equal mix of acquavit, Carpano Antica vermouth, and Gran Classico. Delicious — bitter, sweet, cold.
• Find it: Gran Classico Bitter (750ml), $30.99 at DrinkUpNY
Have you tried Gran Classico? How did it compare to other bitters that you've tried?
(Images: Faith Durand)