With its bright red glow and booming bitterness there’s no mistaking Campari, and it can be off-putting at first. “Being Italian, I really like the bitter taste,” says Angelo Sparvoli, bartender at The American Bar at The Savoy in London. “In fact, we say ‘bitter is better.’”
Campari’s bitter quality delivers balance and complex flavors to a cocktail. “It’s very zesty, with pronounced orange on the nose and notes of citrus and vanilla,” Sparvoli adds. Whisky has the necessary backbone to hold up to the bitterness of Campari, which in turn provides a counterpoint to a whisky’s sweeter side.
That marriage of flavors can now be found in a single bottle. In September 2019, Campari unveiled Cask Tales, a new version of the classic aperitif finished in bourbon barrels. The extra whiskey touch makes it ideal for trying out in some of the cocktails below.
“Campari is the sort of product that might be hard to enjoy neat, but when mixed it transforms the entire cocktail,” suggests Sparvoli. “It gives the right spicy and citrus notes and adds body and texture to the drinks.”
It’s wise to measure all cocktail ingredients, and that’s especially true of Campari, since a small amount can have huge impact. The classic Boulevardier is whiskey’s answer to a Negroni (made with gin), offering a wondrous depth of flavor from equal parts American whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Campari. In the Last Call (recipe below), Sparvoli riffs on the Boulevardier using peated scotch and ruby port. “It’s a twist on a classic Boulevardier, using in this case Bunnahabhain 12 year old, which is quite round, chocolaty, and softly peated compared to others such as Laphroaig or Lagavulin,” he says.
4 Classic Whisky Campari Cocktails
Boulevardier: 1 oz. bourbon or rye whiskey + 1 oz. Campari + 1 oz. sweet vermouth + Maraschino cherry or orange peel for garnish
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with orange peel or maraschino cherry.
Old Pal: 1½ oz. rye whiskey + ¾ oz. Campari + ¾ oz. dry vermouth + Lemon peel for garnish
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with expressed lemon peel.
Italian Gentleman: 1½ oz. bourbon + 1½ oz. Campari + ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice + ¼ oz. simple syrup + 2-3 dashes orange bitters (optional) + Lemon wheel for garnish
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into coupe and garnish with a lemon wheel.
Created by John McCarthy/Carey Jones of Be Your Own Bartender
Last Call: 1½ oz. Bunnahabhain 12 year old + ¾ oz. Campari + ½ oz. ruby port + ¼ oz. Earl Grey syrup
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into chilled coupe.
Created by Angelo Sparvoli of The American Bar in London
How to make Earl Grey Syrup:
Combine two parts caster sugar to one part hot brewed earl grey tea. Stir until well mixed and sugar is dissolved. Cool before use. Store in the refrigerator up to one month.