Name two under-appreciated spirits in the American home bar. Did you say Campari and sweet vermouth? You get a gold star.
Sure, everyone’s got the sweet vermouth banging around somewhere, because we all need a Manhattan now and then. But chances are it gathers cobwebs while you’re off drinking other things. Enter Campari.
Let’s talk about Campari for a hot minute.
To the unaccustomed palate, it tastes primarily of cough syrup and ire. But after acclimation, the subtleties creep up. Bitterness and complexity. Orange. Grapefruit. Herbal notes. Suggestions of berries and stone fruit.
Once you develop a taste for it, you’ll never be without a bottle. You’ll be surprised how often you reach for it, too. As a digestif, there’s nothing like a Campari and soda to set you right.
[Edit: YES I know Campari is technically an aperitif and technically so are Campari-based cocktails but y’all it’s just a drink and I like it very much as a digestif.]
Lately, I’ve been mixing one of these two drinks almost exclusively: the Negroni and the Boulevardier. They’re pretty much the same thing, with one difference:
Campari + sweet vermouth + gin = Negroni
Campari + sweet vermouth + Bourbon = Boulevardier
They are, naturally, rather similar in taste. The Negroni is more crisp and cool. The Boulevardier is warmer and richer. Both are sophisticated and well-balanced when made well. It tastes like being an adult.
You can use rye instead of Bourbon in the Boulevardier, which is also nice. It makes the drink a touch less sweet. (N.B.: Lest you think all this talk of “sweet” things implicates that it is a saccharine drink here, remember that Campari is as bitter as my cold, dead heart. These are never a sweet drink.)
If you are actually insane and not a fan of gin, Bourbon, or rye, feel free to mix either of the unfortunately-named variations: Agavoni (with tequila) or Negronski (with vodka). I have never tried these and have no plans to. Proceed at your own risk.
Classically, the Negroni is mixed with equal parts of everything. But so is the Martini, and only sadists make them that way. I prefer a more booze-forward approach here: 1 part Campari + 1 part sweet vermouth + 2 parts gin (or 1.5 parts, depending on mood).
I strongly suggest measuring carefully. Proportions are important. Mix the drink with too much Campari once, and you’ll never try it again. I happen to own a lovely little shot glass with handy jigger-based measurements on the side. I love this shot glass. Making cocktails is so easy with it.
I reckon you’re supposed to make drinks like this in a shaker, then strain out the half-melted ice. But I never do that. If you stir everything up in the glass you drink it from, that’s one less thing to clean. I’m looking out for you.
Besides, I like the half-melted ice. It makes a satisfying noise in the glass.
I’ve taken to adding a splash of sparkling water at the end, just before drinking. It lightens the drink and opens the flavors. Makes things not so boozy.
As for garnish, I usually skip it. One is supposed to add an orange twist, but I never keep oranges around. A lemon twist is weird and unnecessary in this instance.
One word to the wise: cap your bottles when you’re done pouring. Cap. Your. Bottles. About five seconds after taking the above picture, my living room rug was being soaked in a waterfall of sweet vermouth, Campari, gin, and Bourbon (the Woodford, too!) after the backdrop I was using knocked them all over. Lamentations were wailed.
Good thing there was a drink already made.
The type of glass is important here, as it usually is with cocktails. This is a no-bullshit cocktail, and it requires a no-bullshit glass. The ideal glass is something with a thin lip and a heavy bottom. Wide and short is better than tall and thin. Something solid and masculine.
Unless you have some darling little coupes, and then you should use those.
- 2 parts gin (1 jigger, or 1.5 ounces)
- 1 part sweet vermouth (1/2 jigger, or 3/4 ounce)
- 1 part Campari (1/2 jigger, or 3/4 ounce)
- Sparkling water
1. Pour the gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari into a heavy-bottomed glass.
2. Add a handful of ice, enough to almost fill the glass, but not crowd the booze or stick up above it.
3. Stir for at least 30 seconds. Count it out or watch the clock. Patience is a virtue. The ice should mostly melt.
4. Top off the drink with a quick pour of sparkling water.
5. Drink slowly over the course of an hour or so, ideally after dinner.
Use Bourbon or rye whiskey instead of the gin. Proceed as directed.