In the United States, there is no discrimination when it comes to enjoying an array of alcoholic beverages from around the world. Russian vodka, Mexican tequila, Scotch whiskey, and Jamaican rum are all consumed without prejudice.
In Italy, however, one spirit stands alone: that violently-red, bitter elixir that finds its way into almost every Italian cocktail. Campari.
One’s first introduction to Campari cocktails can be a little shocking, and not always entirely pleasant. It is much more astringent than you are prepared for. It’s an “acquired taste,” as they say. However, once you acquire the taste, there’s no going back.
The “Birth” of Campari
The liqueur is named after its creator, Gaspare Campari, who was born in Cassolnovo, Lombardy, in 1828 to a family of farmers. His passion for liqueurs led him to move to Turin in 1842 to study liqueurs and spirits. It was here that he experimented with the creation of some interesting concoctions, most of which are now out of production.
However, from these early formulas arose “Bitter all’uso di Hollanda,” which eventually became one of the most famous alcoholic products in the history of modern mixology. Simply, the iconic “Campari.”
This elixir is created by the blending of fruit, herbs, and aromatic plants infused in a mixture of water and alcohol. The ruby red color and the bitter-sweet flavor was unique and well-recognized. Very quickly it became Italy’s favorite drink as an aperitif.
7 Top Campari Cocktail Recipes
Below we’ve listed seven Campari cocktail recipes to help you enjoy this strange, alluring potion during an Italian aperitivo (a.k.a. Happy Hour in Italy)…or wherever you happen to be at the moment. It’s the perfect accompaniment to your Mediterranean style meal.
The very height of refined simplicity: equal measures of Campari and Club Soda poured over ice in a tumbler glass.
Add a healthy slice of orange and this makes for the perfect pre-lunch cocktail on a hot summer day when you’re idling at a small table under a big umbrella in the middle of a sunlit piazza. Or even if you’re just sitting in your living room and dreaming of such a scene.
Equal parts Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Club Soda on the rocks with an orange slice. But, “Americano?” you ask. If this is such an Italian drink, why the American moniker? Permit us to shine a light on a little known detail concerning that dark period of American history: Prohibition.
As we all painfully recall, the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol was severely restricted by our government during this sad time. In the midst of the Great Depression, the average working man was callously denied his only respite after a hard day’s labor.
However, some clever Italian-American exposed a loophole in the law which allowed Campari to be designated as “medicinal,” and therefore legal. It is considered a digestive, after all. Once this discovery gained attention, a sudden, unexplained wave of gastrointestinal ailments swept across our great nation and the Americano was born. Grazie, Italia!
Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Gin. As always, on the rocks with an orange slice or lemon twist.
This one packs a wallop, so proceed with caution. Two of these and you’ll be singing, “O Sole Mio,” even if you don’t know the words. When it comes to Campari cocktail recipes, fore the purists, this is the only one worth mentioning.
It is the ideal choice before dinner to heighten your appetite and prepare your stomach for the meal. But unless you play the mandolin and speak Neapolitan dialect, you’d better just have one.
Was this Campari cocktail recipe a mistake? The word “sbagliato” means “wrong,” or “mistake.” However, in the case, perhaps we can translate it as a “happy accident.”
The rumor is that a bartender at a place called Bar Basso in Milan accidently grabbed a bottle of Prosecco when he was reaching for the gin. Therefore proportions are the same as with the traditional Negroni, except it’s made with Campari, sweet vermouth, Prosecco, and garnished with an orange twist.
And if this recipe is “wrong,” then I don’t want to be right!
2 parts Campari, 1 part Club Soda, 3 parts sparkling white wine (Prosecco is the preferred choice). Served with a few cubes of ice in a white wine glass, and garnished with a straw and an orange slice.
The word “Spritz” sounds a bit silly, not to mention German. Which it is—both silly and German.
In fact, this creation comes to us from the northeast of Italy by way of Austria. What’s more, if you drink this beverage in its adoptive hometown of Padua, it will usually be made with the sweeter Aperol instead of Campari, and they’ll inexplicably replace the orange slice with a big green olive. Yuck! Take my advice and stick to the Campari version.
Campari and tequila? Why, yes. Believe it or not, Italy and Mexico have more in common than you might think at first glance. Spain won “The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies” (Naples and Sicily) in 1504, and the region was ruled by Spanish viceroys for two centuries. In fact, in Modica, Sicily, you can still find Mexican chocolate-making traditions.
The “marriage” of Italian Campari and tequila made in Mexico is a more recent arrangement. The Rosita’s origins trace back only as far as the early 1990s, but knowledgeable bartenders love to cite the aforementioned history to add a bit of drama to the drink menu. A complex layering of Campari, both sweet and dry vermouth, and tequila makes each sip both rich and robust. A bittersweet, boozy, transcontinental classic is born… cin-cin, amigos!
- 1 oz. Campari
- ½ oz. sweet (“red”) vermouth
- ½oz. dry (“white”) vermouth
- 1 ½ oz. high-quality, aged tequila
- A dash of aromatic bitters
Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, then strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.
Campari and Orange Juice
It’s not just for breakfast anymore! With this one you have some wiggle room with the recipe, depending on your mood and the time of day.
Fill a tall tumbler with ice and mix the two ingredients together until you like the color. An orange slice? OK, but there’s already a lot of orange in the drink, so this is strictly for decoration.
And honestly, this particular drink doesn’t really do Campari its justice. Perhaps a good choice if you’re still wading in the shallow end of Italian cocktail culture.
Other Campari Cocktail Recipes?
Obviously there have been other Campari concoctions dreamt up by well-intended (but misguided) bartenders. Don’t be swayed by these blatant acts of sacrilege. Stick with the traditions, like any self-respecting Italian would.
So now go put on your Ray-Bans, hop on your Vespa and head down to the nearest piazza to give Campari a try. Salute!