Campari is a popular bitter Italian apéritif. The brilliantly red-colored spirit is made of a proprietary blend of herbs and spices. It has a very strong bitter flavor highlighted by orange that is an acquired taste but an enlightening one. Campari is enjoyed throughout the world and is an iconic before-dinner drink ingredient for cocktails like the Negroni and Americano.
Campari vs. Aperol
Campari and Aperol are both Italian-made bitter apéritifs owned by Gruppo Campari. The differences begin with the color; Aperol is bright orange, and Campari is a crimson red. Tastewise, both have a dominant bitter orange flavor. Aperol is sweeter, the bitterness is milder, and the spirit is lower proof than Campari, resulting in a much lighter apéritif. Campari is bold and bitter and over twice as strong as Aperol. Generally, if you're new to drinking bitters, it's best to introduce yourself to this category with Aperol. You can then gradually train your palate to accept and thoroughly enjoy Campari.
Since Campari is unique, there is no perfect substitute. However, you can make a Campari cocktail with various other apéritifs, and each will add its own personality to the drink. Beyond Aperol, Leopold Bros. Aperitivo, Luxardo Bitter, Meletti 1870, and Tempus Fugit Gran Classico are a few good options.
- Ingredients: Herbs, fruits, and spices
- Proof: 41–56
- ABV: 20.5–28%
- Calories in a 1 1/2-ounce shot: 120
- Origin: Italy
- Taste: Bitter, orange, herbal
- Serve: On the rocks, cocktails
What Is Campari Made From?
The secret recipe for Campari was initially developed in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy, near Milan. Campari was fond of experimenting with new beverages, and the spirit that took his name was his most significant success. Its development played an integral role in changing the tradition of drinking digestifs after a meal into a pre-meal custom.
The only known ingredients in Campari are water and alcohol. According to the company, these are blended then infused with "bitter herbs, aromatic plants and fruit." Nothing else is revealed, including how many ingredients are used or what they may be. Many speculations abound, including that the bitterness comes from the chinotto citrus fruit.
Campari is bottled between 20.5 percent and 28 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 41 to 56 proof), depending on where it's sold. In the U.S., it is 24 percent ABV (48 proof).
For the majority of its production life, the signature red color of Campari came from carmine dye. Derived from the female cochineal insect, carmine is commonly used to dye fabrics, foods, and beverages. In 2006, the company switched to an artificial dye for the most part, though carmine-dyed Campari is still found throughout the world. Most bottles, including all Campari sold in the U.S., are now clearly marked "artificially colored" or with the individual dyes used.
What Does Campari Taste Like?
Campari's prominent flavor is that of a strong bittersweet orange. It's very complex, and there are notes of cherry, clove, and cinnamon. It's one of the most bitter spirits you will taste, which adds to its appeal for many drinkers.
How to Drink Campari
Campari is often served on the rocks or in simple cocktails. As an apéritif, it's best enjoyed before a meal to prepare the stomach to digest food. Its interesting taste is not one that most people will find pleasant at first, so it's best to ease into this bitter.
Popular Campari-forward drinks like the Negroni and Americano can be overwhelming to the uninitiated drinker. Instead, begin with Campari and orange juice (built like a screwdriver) or a similar fruit-forward drink. These drinks soften the bitterness, and you can train your palate to accept Campari in a purer form. This slow integration works almost every time, though it may take a few years. It is worth the journey to achieve a more diverse palate, and a well-made Campari cocktail can make almost any meal just a little better.
Campari is the featured ingredient in a number famous classic cocktail recipes. It's frequently paired with gin, but also works well with the other base liquors, including brandy, whiskey, and vodka.
Where to Buy Campari
Campari is stocked in most liquor stores with a good selection of distilled spirits. It doesn't fit into any standard category, so it is often found among liqueurs. As a top-shelf spirit, a 750-milliliter bottle sells for a premium price, though it is not outrageous.
How to Store Campari
Campari can be stored like any liquor in a cool spot out of direct sunlight. Unopened, it has an indefinite shelf-life. To ensure the best taste, seal an open bottle with the original cap to avoid long exposures to oxygen that can degrade the flavor over time, and drink it within a year.