Exploring Bottle No. 10: Campari
In the column this month, we’re musing about what would become of your cocktail repertoire if you were to inch our self-imposed bottle limit up one notch, into the double digits.
Absinthe, as we discovered last week, appears in many a classic cocktail, and thus brings a lot to the liquor cabinet. But when it comes to mingling (with other liquors), can absinthe compete with a vivacious Italian, dressed in stunning red? I’m talking of course about Campari, the century-and-a-half-old bitter aperitif.
Campari’s Italian Roots
Campari has it roots in a small city outside Milan. Its inventor, Gaspare Campari, was supposedly inspired by Dutch-made bitter, herbal-infused cordials when he developed the recipe for Campari.
The huge spirits company that ultimately grew up around this product has managed to keep Gaspare’s ingredient list a secret for all these 150-plus years (Campari, though no longer family owned, is said to be made still following his original formula). Orange is surely in there; Campari boasts a round, brooding, bitter-orange flavor. Press reports on the recipe have cited rhubarb and even ginseng as other likely ingredients.
I always pick up on a grapefruit undertone when I drink Campari — which is quite often, thanks to the bittering, citrus-ifying, generally complicating influence it has on cocktails. (One of the earliest-known bottled cocktails, in fact, was Campari and soda.)
Campari’s Visual Style
As an art lover, I have always appreciated how Campari has marketed itself with the help of numerous visual artists over the years, who’ve created poster campaigns for the brand that reflect the aesthetic trends of the moment.
The Quintessential Campari Cocktail: The Negroni
Speaking of trending, no discussion of Campari would be complete these days without mentioning the Negroni, the cocktail perhaps most associated with the ruby-red liqueur after the brand’s own Campari and soda. In recent years, this equal-parts combo of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari has become a darling of the cocktail establishment (for good-tasting reason, I’d argue).
But having Campari on hand to round out your 9-Bottle Bar doesn’t just put the Negroni in play. It works well with whiskey. There are even a few drinks out there pairing light rum and Campari. Plus, it’s an all-seasons product, coming in handy in summer with drinks like the Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, soda), and in colder months with the more boozy Boulevardier (Campari, rye, sweet vermouth). You may just find that bottle No. 10 is often your first to run out.