Review – Campari Bitter
If there was one cocktail that defined the point at which you had ‘made it’ into the realm of the cocktail enthusiast it would be the Negroni. Whilst there are exceptions to every rule, it would usually be considered an ‘acquired taste’, and thus unsuitable for those who are new to the world of cocktail imbibing. It is however, almost universally revered amongst those who would think of themselves as aficionados of the mixed drink. The ‘acquired’ part of its taste is the fact that it is a bitter-tasting drink on account of one of the ingredients, Campari. Produced to a secret recipe using an infusion of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit into a mix of neutral alcohol and water, Campari has been around since 1860 and shows no sign of disappearing any time soon.
Neat: The bright red colour of this spirit is reflected in its taste, for it is a mischievous devil. Like a naughty schoolboy creeping up on you to play a prank, the early stages are quite innocuous. The initial taste is rather sweet, but it fades quickly to reveal a pleasant burst of citrus followed by a complex herbal medley of flavours. Just as the herbs start to dance around the tongue, so the bitterness starts to build; and it keeps building, and then builds a bit more. This is a bitter-tasting drink that likes to assert itself by hanging around on the palate for quite some time after you have swallowed the last drop. Some will find this rather offensive, but given a little patience, I find most people come around to Campari’s way of thinking!
Mixing: There is no getting away from the fact Campari is bitter in taste, and many of the best cocktails in which it is found make use of this quality to full effect and are best consumed as an aperitif. The Negroni (recipe below) is quite possibly the most famous of all, and for good reason. Traditionally equal parts of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, it is a great drink to experiment with and find your perfect balance of flavours. I like mine for instance a little heavy on the vermouth and toned down a touch on the gin. The gin can also be substituted for all manner of other spirits to equally impressive success; for example the Milano uses vodka, and the Boulevardier bourbon. The Americano (recipe below) is a great choice for those occasions where a longer libation is required, and a simple mix with orange juice helps balance the bitterness and creates an easy-drinking and refreshingly tasty drink. The complexity of the flavour profile means that it mixes well with a wide range of flavours, and I frequently find myself experimenting with it as an ingredient to great success.
Signature Cocktail – Negroni
35ml gin, 35ml Campari, 35ml sweet vermouth
Stir ingredients briefly over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with an orange slice.
Signature Cocktail – Americano
50ml Campari Bitter, 50ml sweet vermouth, soda
Add Campari and vermouth to a highball glass filled with ice and top with soda. Garnish with an orange slice.
Campari Bitter does exactly what it says on the tin, and offers a wonderful depth of flavour in doing so. It is quite possibly the ultimate ingredient for an aperitif-style drink and is an essential component of any home bar.
Campari Bitter is available to buy from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.