What Is Campari and How Do You Use It?

Courtesy Campari

A deep-dive into the rouge-colored Italian aperitif.

A result of its distinctive bottle and alluring crimson color, Campari is a spirit you truly can’t ignore. While it was once enjoyed primarily in Italy—where the spirit was created in 1860—it now has a wide international following. Whether Campari's rise to global popularity is attributable to the American fervor for Negronis, or simply the consumers’ desire to replicate the feeling of a Italian vacation in a cocktail glass is entirely up for debate. Nonetheless, here is everything you need to know about Campari, from its flavor profile, to the difference between Campari and Aperol, to the best Campari cocktails.

What Is Campari?


Courtesy Campari 

An aperitif founded in Novara, Italy in 1860, Campari is a fruity yet bitter liqueur that runs from 20.5% to 28.5% ABV. It was created by mixologist Gaspare Campari, who had been experimenting with flavors to create a balanced, sweet and bitter aperitif. An aromatic liqueur with flavors of grapefruit, orange, herbs, spices, and bitters, the exact recipe for Campari is the same as it was in 1860, and the ingredients are largely unknown. As the brand says, the spirit flavor is “obtained from the infusion of bitter herbs, aromatic plants, and fruit in alcohol and water. To this day, alcohol and water are the only [publicly] known ingredients of its special and secret recipe.”

Experts think Campari’s dominant flavor may come from chinottos, a small citrus fruit with a notable bitterness. The iconic red hue of Campari originally came from Carmine dye, made from cochineal insects, but the use of this dye was discontinued in 2006. 

Campari is also recognized because of the bottle’s unique design and the chic, artistic advertisements associated with the brand. In the brand’s words, in the 1920s, “Many great artists of the time start[ed] working with Campari marking the beginning of the connection of the brand with the world of art. Leonetto Cappiello, for example, created the famous Spiritello sprite wrapped in an orange peel, an image that people still remember.”

What Is the Difference Between Campari and Aperol?


Courtesy Campari

They’re both fruity and slightly bitter Italian-made aperitifs you can mix with Prosecco—so, what’s the difference? Aperol has a lighter hue, more sweetness, and predominant orange flavor notes. Aperol is about half as alcoholic as Campari—clocking in at 11%. Aperol is really considered the lighter, and even more approachable, of the two spirits. It’s typically mixed with sparkling wine to create a signature Aperol Spritz. Aperol is also less bitter, and because of its lower ABV, is thought of as the more refreshing spirit. Campari, on the other hand, is considered the more complex of the two spirits, used in stronger cocktails that are both more flavorful and more alcoholic. The taste of Campari is more concentrated, and at 20.5% to 28.5% alcohol, it packs more of a punch. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either aperitif—it’s purely a matter of flavor preference and what cocktail you’re hoping to create.

What Cocktails Are Made with Campari?


Courtesy Campari 

Campari became widely popular in the 1920s through the invention of a now-classic cocktail: the Negroni. Up until then, Campari was served in an Americano, or simply enjoyed on the rocks. Here, the five most iconic and brand-approved Campari cocktails:

Americano

On the International Bartending Association’s official cocktail list, an Americano is one part Campari, one part red vermouth, and a splash of soda served on the rocks, garnished with a lemon peel or an orange slice.

Negroni

A Negroni is also on the International Bartending Association’s official cocktail list and is arguably the most popular Campari cocktail today. It’s equal parts Campari, gin, and red vermouth, and you haven’t lived until you’ve watched Stanley Tucci mix one at home.

Campari & Soda

A classic enjoyed by Gaspare Campari himself, this is just one part Campari and three parts club soda, served over ice. Garnish it with an orange peel or slice. 

Boulevardier

The Negroni for Bourbon drinkers, a Boulevardier is one part Campari, one part red vermouth, and one part Bourbon. Shaken or stirred with ice, it’s then strained and served up with a lemon peel.

Mi To

An old-school Campari cocktail, the flavors of Campari come together with a fellow Italian import, Cinzano vermouth, for this drink. It’s one part Campari and one part red vermouth, served on the rocks with an orange peel. “Mi To” is actually the Italian word for “myth.”