One of my husband’s favorite drinks is the bright red, bittersweet aperitif Campari. I can’t stand it and after years of being coaxed to “take a sip—try it again, it is an acquired taste,” I have given up. It is just too bitter for me! Eric likes it because it can be served with soda for a lighter beverage or incorporated into a cocktail if something a little stronger is indicated. In fact in Italy you can buy it already mixed with soda water and bottled in individual serving sized bottles. Campari was invented by Gaspare Campari in the early 1800s and served in his Milan bar, Café Campari.
The classic way to serve Campari in a cocktail is mixed with gin and sweet red vermouth in a Negroni. The Negroni was created in Florence in the early 1900s, it was named after Camillo Negroni who always ordered the same cocktail. A classic Negroni is basically equal parts gin, Campari and vermouth, although cutting back on the vermouth makes it slightly drier. A Negroni can be made without the gin and topped up with club soda, in which case it is called an Americano. Drinks with bitters (Campari is categorized with Angostura, et al.) are thought to aid digestion. These aperitifs are considered to be the perfect prelude to a meal.
Campari always reminds my husband of a much loved aunt, now sadly departed, who drank Campari on the terrace of the Negresco Hotel in Nice, among other places. One interesting note is that at the Georges V bar in Paris, they substitute Lillet Rouge for sweet vermouth.
1 oz gin
1 oz Campari
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
(while traditionally made with Italian vermouth, Eric prefers Noilly Prat, made just over the border in France)
Combine all ingredients in an ice filled shaker. Shake until well chilled and pour into an Old-fashioned glass*. Garnish with a twist of orange or lemon peel. Some people get fancy and serve it with a burnt orange peel like they do at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Don’t try this at home, kids. It can be served straight up in a cocktail glass, but the slowly melting ice cubes when served on the rocks cuts the alcohol and makes the drink the perfect thing to drink on a warm summer evening before dinner.
*A short, round, so called “rocks” glass of 8-12 ounces, suitable for cocktails or liquor served on the rocks, or “with a splash”.