Campari, A Better Bitters

Posted by: on Jul 29, 2011 | No Comments

When the warm weather roles around, I put down the smokey stuff and pick up Campari.  Bitter, dry, refreshing, and low in alcohol, I can’t think of a better summer refresher than this classic Italian spritzer.

For the most part, the story isn’t anything out of the ordinary.  Italian barman comes up with special bitters recipe in the late nineteenth century, keeps the formula a secret, gets some society notables drinking the neon-colored stuff, now we all want some, and the rest, as they say, is history.  It is interesting to note that the color originally came from crushed beetle parts, just like the now-illusive Italian liqueur Alkermes (which you can still find at Santa Maria Novella), but I digress.

If you’ve ever had the stuff, you know the taste is certainly distinct.  It’s bitter, a little fruity, and bone dry.  The most basic preparation, the Campari and Soda is much the same, but fizzy and cold.  No surprises there.  But Gaspare, or Mr. Campari to you, found vermouth the perfect companion to his elixir from the beginning.  As early as the 1860s people were drinking what is now known as the Americano, which is equal parts Campari and Sweet/Italian/Red Vermouth topped off with club soda.  Either way you end up with something pretty low in alcohol (8-12%ish depending on how strong you like it), with the latter being a little sweeter and more tame than the former.  An orange slice, a few straws, and a marble pool or seaside view certainly won’t hurt anything.

If you’re done pumping the brakes and want a little kick in the pants, Count Negroni is your man.  He eschewed the light aperitif in favor of more serious booze.  Sometime around 1920 the aristocrat asked a Florentine bartender to skip the club soda and replace it with gin.  Not a bad idea, eh?  Equal parts all around, stirred over ice, and garnished with a swatch of orange peel, the Negroni looks a lot like its lighter antecedents, but looks can be deceiving.  Think of it less like a spritzer and more like an Italian martini, or I assure you you’ll regret it in the morning.

Sadly I’m not summering on the Aegean, and no I don’t own a seaside villa.  But, I do have a bottle of Campari at the ready on my shelf, and for now that will just have to do.

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