What Is Campari?

What's the Difference Between Campari and Aperol?

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 popular bitter Italian aperitif. 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 aperitifs 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 aperitif. Campari is definitely 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.

Substitutions

Since Campari is unique, there is no perfect substitute. However, you can make a Campari cocktail with a variety of other aperitifs 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 just a few good options.

Fast Facts

  • Ingredients: Herbs, fruits, and spices
  • Proof: 41–56
  • ABV: 20.5–28%
  • Calories in a shot: 80
  • Origin: Italy
  • Taste: Bitter, orange, herbal
  • Serve: On the rocks, cocktails

What Is Campari Made From?

The secret recipe for Campari 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 Campari was his biggest 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. These are blended together then infused with "bitter herbs, aromatic plants and fruit," according to the company. 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, which is derived from the female cochineal insect. It's commonly used to dye fabrics, foods, and beverages. In 2006, the company switched to an artificial dye for the most part. Like the alcohol content, it depends on the country. Carmine-dyed Campari is still found throughout the world. The majority of 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 as well. 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. 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 will 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 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.

Cocktail Recipes

Campari is the featured ingredient in a number of the most famous classic cocktail recipes. It's frequently paired with gin, but it also works well with the other base liquors, including brandy, whiskey, and vodka.