Love It or Hate It?

Best Campari cocktail recipes

Love It
or Hate It?

It’s bitter and divisive. But that doesn’t make Campari bad.

Now that the election is over (for the most part), there's something else that's bitter and divisive I think we should talk about—the Italian aperitif, Campari.

If you're a casual cocktail consumer, you might know of the garnet-colored bitter as one-third of the Negroni, and the only nonnegotiable component. If you've had a Negroni, there's a good chance you loved it or hated it (or, as is often said, you hated it until you loved it). And in either case, I am willing to bet that Campari is the culprit.

When I first got into cocktails, I was drawn to the classics for many reasons, and the Negroni was one of my early favorites. It was different, of course, because bitter isn't a taste we easily embrace, but it was also delicious to the point of epiphany, and my appreciation has only grown over time. To me, the Negroni is a universal tipple of seamless balance and perfect harmony.

I first became aware of the common aversion to Campari when a colleague said, “I can't do Campari-it scratches my throat.” My mother—never one to pull punches—calls it “loathsome and ghastly,” and a close friend said that when it's present, “it's the only flavor that I can taste, and it's not one I enjoy.” And yet, another cocktail-loving friend looks favorably on Campari for the very same reason, saying he “always thought Campari was distinct to the point that it's impossible to ignore, which is perhaps why it gets the extreme love or hate reaction from people. I'm always aware of it in a drink, more so than I would generally be of other ingredients.”

I think there is plenty to love about Campari and plenty of ways to enjoy it no matter where you land on the love-hate spectrum. Herewith, a few approaches, in descending degrees of bitterness.

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3 Recipes to Try

Old Pal

This is a classic that tilts a familiar formula toward the drier side, further exposing the bitterness of Campari. It's sophisticated and mature, and one to take your time with. I recommend stirring with ice and serving up, but it also works well in a rocks glass.

Whisky Advocate has the recipe »

Rosita

This is also related to the core Negroni platform, but it splits the vermouth between dry and sweet. All of the ratios can be tinkered with-up the tequila or reduce the Campari to your liking. This is Gaz Regan's version, which keeps the Campari in the spotlight. Regan recommends serving over crushed ice, but I also like this one stirred over ice and served up with a big orange twist.

The San Francisco Chronicle has the recipe »

Jungle Bird

If you feel like you're stuck with a bottle of Campari and you're determined to make it work, try the Jungle Bird, a tiki classic which tucks the Italian aperitif away nicely. Shake this one up and serve it over ice, and I recommend garnishing it extravagantly with citrus wheels, pineapple wedges/leaves, a sprig of mint, cocktail umbrellas, or all of the above.

Liquor.com has the recipe »

Alternatives

Alternatives

If Campari for you is simply a non-starter, try Aperol as a substitute. Everything about Aperol—the bitterness, the proof and even the hue—is softer than Campari. Cynar is another great option that offers a different angle on bitterness.

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