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.