If that is alright with you, I will make a small infidelity to wine today by talking about another drink. Something vaguely resembling spring has come to Boston, at long last, and so, it becomes socially acceptable to drink Campari. By the way, don’t bother drinking Campari in winter, I’ve done it, it just doesn’t work for some reason. It’s like drinking pastis when you can’t hear cicadas, the whole things seems off.
What is Campari you ask? Well, Campari is technically a liqueur (a distilled spirit flavored with fruit, herbs, spices… and bottled with additional sugar). It’s more specifically a bitter and its flavor comes from various herbs and fruits, the exact composition being of course a secret. The more distinctive feature of Campari is its red color that originally came from the use of carmine dye. Campari was created by Gaspare Campari in 1860 in the Italian city of Novara, near Milan. From there it spread to the French Riviera and then to the rest of the world.
How do you drink Campari you ask? Well, you could drink it on the rocks but it’s not my favorite approach, it might be too bitter and a little syrupy. An alternative would be to make it a Campari and soda, very refreshing, not as bitter and actually sold pre-bottled in Italy.
Campari is used in some classic cocktails such as the Negroni: gin, vermouth, and Campari or the Campari Spritz: Campari, soda, Prosecco). My personal favorite though is the Americano. It’s simple enough to make: Campari, Cinzano (sweet vermouth) and club soda, served in an old-fashioned glass with a slice of orange. It’s very refreshing, bitter without being overpowering and it’s an absolutely iconic cocktail, James Bond drinks it, and Gaspare Campari, the inventor of the liquor was the one who created the cocktail. That is some solid credentials. Additional bit of nerdery, the Americano is also known as the Milan-Torino, because Campari is from Milan and Cinzano is from Torino.
Why should I drink Campari you ask? Well, the truth is, you don’t really have to… I love the bitter taste, I think the color is awesome and screams summer, sunglasses and swimsuits. It’s a perfect warm weather drink, a great aperitif and to me, at least, it summons images of Italy, classy summer dinners with relaxed but impeccably dressed guests, a perfect vision of an Italian vacation that probably only exists in my mind.
That is actually a great transition to this song, Voyage en Italie (Trip in Italy), a French summer hit from 1994 that mentions driving down the Italian Riviera, drink Martini, bathe on a Capri beach, dance the calypso while looking down at the Arno river, and of course, drink some Campari. They even include a bad pun in the lyrics : Campari / Quand Paris (when Paris). Of course it’s a song after my own heart.