Campari: The Essential Bitter Aperitif You Should Know

A Campari swizzle stick sticking out of a glass of Campari and soda in a bar - Noosa, Queensland
John Hay / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Campari is a bitter Italian aperitif. It is a proprietary blend of herbs and spices, is a brilliant red color, and has a unique flavor which may take some getting used to.

The "secret" recipe was originally developed in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in the town of Novara, Italy near Milan. Campari was fond of experimenting with new beverages and the development of this particular bitter played an integral role in changing the custom of drinking digestifs after a meal into a pre-meal custom. Campari remains an iconic before-dinner drink ingredient.

Developing a Campari Palate

Campari does have an interesting taste and it's one that can take some getting used to. Its prominent flavor is that of a strong bitter orange similar to if you were to drop orange bitters directly on your tongue (though that's not recommended as it will "burn" your taste buds).

It has many uses in cocktails and is used in some of the best recipes of all time. Yet, for those unaccustomed to the taste Campari-forward drinks like the popular Negroni, Americano, or Campari and Soda, it can be overwhelming.

People should begin with Campari and orange juice (built like a Screwdriver) or a similar fruit-forward drink. You will find the bitterness is softened and you can slowly build your palate to accept Campari in a purer form. You might also consider starting with Aperol; it too is a bitter aperitif, but it gentler than Campari.

This slow integration works almost every time, though it may take a few years. It is worth the journey for achieving a more sophisticated palate and you'll wonder where Campari has been all your life. It certainly makes almost any meal just a little bit better.

Campari Cocktails

Campari is often served on the rocks or in simple cocktails such as the Campari Cocktail and Speranza. It is used in a number of classic cocktails and though it is frequently paired with gin, it also works well with other base liquors such as whiskey and vodka.

About Campari

  • Italian bitter aperitif made of a secret infusion of herbs.
  • 20.5% to 28% alcohol by volume (dependent on the country it's distributed in)
  • In the U.S., Campari is 24% ABV (48 proof).
  • Retails for around $23/750ml bottle

Campari and Art

Campari's advertising campaigns have always been interesting but it was the integration of art and advertising around the turn of the 20th-century that truly turned the tide. The campaigns that have been developed in the last 100+ years are some of the most memorable, even outside of the alcohol industry, and they continue today.

The classic advertising posters from Campari are some of the most memorable of their time. They're quite collectible on the vintage market and make great additions to any retro decor. More recently, thematic calendars and campaigns have been produced starring celebrities such as Eva Mendes, Jessica Alba, and Salma Hayek in a series of stunning photographs.