Campari is where it started for me (and Larry Flynt). On my first solo bar shift I took down all of the bottles I didn’t know and tasted them, and I don’t think its surprising for an American boy to make to 24 years or until the viewing of The Life Aquatic to meet Campari (Steve Zissou orders up Campari from his interns, the interns confirm, “rocks?”). Actually, thanks to Salma Heyek’s, “Hotel Campari” add campaign, men may be introduced to Campari at a younger age. But more about me, with the first sip, I was shocked and seduced, I have never looked back, the first cocktail I ever invented (later that shift) was in honor of The Life Aquatic, the Esteban, equal parts vodka, lemon, Grand Marnier, with a 1oz sinker of Campari that was to be his blood, garnished with a wedge of lemon, sprinkled with cinnamon. And this drink that did not catch on, is the principal example of why new bartenders should be forced to work slow Sunday shifts, alone and stay open until 2am. How else will you learn the history of Campari?
Gespare Campari invented, in1860, as a bittersweet 70 proof apertivo to serve to the patrons of his coffeehouse this was Campari, and the recipe we still serve today. In fits of elitism, with fists balled, I will grumble, “its not a bar if you don’t have Campari or Rye.” I’ll come back to the Rye, but Campari is recognized the world over, its only in the United States that we don’t love it. But as I said before, Salma will help. Campari was very popular in America during prohibition due to it being legal and called a digestive aid. After prohibition, it fell away to a taste for mediocrity and homogeny. What is it? Well, its bittersweet and red, otherwise it’s a secret. A sexy secret. However, it’s commonly known that some of the secret is quinine, (which comes from the bark of the Cinchona) rhubarb, ginseng, bergamot oil, Seville orange peel and ginger. And yes it is colored (along with many other products) with Cochineal. I’ll save you a trip to the Internet and go ahead and tell you that Cochineal is a little Central American cactus-eating bug. Thus, Campari is not vegetarian nor is it for the chosen people (kosher). But that’s just history, all you really need to know are Negroni, Americano, and soda.
Campari will likely be ordered one of 3.5 ways. On the rocks or with soda, is the classic Campari way, in not American its common to see pre-bottled Campari and soda. Unfortunately, in many states its illegal to sell pre mixed spirits outside of liquor stores. Shift gears momentarily to James Bond, a man who drank almost every important drink there was to drink. Among those are the other two important Campari drinks.
The Americano: Campari, sweet vermouth and soda, I will never forget the Americano, because of a story a fellow bartender told me. He had answered what we call a “cattle call,” and open call to fill a bartender position. The interviewer asked him what was in an Americano, upon answering correctly; he was told that he was the only bartender that knew the ingredients. Why? Because most bartenders are actually beertenders.
The Negroni is equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth (though, don’t be surprised to get a little extra gin). Count Camillo Negroni was real, and frequented a bar called Caffe Rivoire in Florence where he ordered an Americano with gin substituted for soda. I frequently say subbing champagne for soda is wise but in this case gin works well. Which brings another lesson, swapping two ingredients is the easiest way to make a new drink. The Old Pal for example is a dry vermouth Negroni sub bourbon for gin. Lastly, when ordered in Europe or Italian restaurants, expect to get it on the rocks due to the genealogy, whereas in America it will be served up. The Negroni is my Favorite drink, much like “crunk” is getting “drunk” up in the club, I am trying to introduce “negronked” as a term for getting drunk on fancy drinks, specifically the Negroni.
What you should have learned:
Thanks be to Salma and Steve Zissou, but more to Salma.
To be a better bartender, work lame shifts that allow you to learn at your own rate
Campari is bittersweet, not completely bitter
Campari is an apertivo, that is to say, before dinner
Serve it with orange and know :
1.5oz Sweet Vermouth
splash of club soda
Garnish: orange slice
Build over ice into a collins glass.
1.5oz sweet vermouth
Garnish: Orange Zest
stir and strain into a cocktail glass or over ice in an old fashioned glass
And here is one from me:
1oz grapefruit juice
Garnish: Rosemary sprig
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass