Campari, take four

March 9th, 2008

I think it’s fair to say cocktails, of the classic variety at least, are something of an acquired taste. Many of my friends have a passing interest in mixed drinks but are more used to the sugary concoctions chain-pubs serve, and when presented with something like a Martini or Manhattan they tend to wince, unable to taste beyond the alcohol. Of course once your palate is adjusted to such libations, a whole new world is unlocked, but for many getting over that initial learning curve is just too difficult.

Personally, as I’m sure you can tell, I’ve had no such trouble, and happily enjoy most liquors both in cocktails and alone. However, there is one spirit which I’ve never quite managed to muster much fondness for – Campari. I’ve tried it in a number of different cocktails but the heavy bitterness has always been too much for me. I guess it’s my sweet tooth – I’m a sucker for sweets, chocolate and anything loaded with sugar, and Campari is the very antithesis of this.

However, I’m not one to give up easily. It’s been a while since I last looked at Campari here, but I have had the odd Union Club since then and thought it was probably time to give it another go…

The Boulevardier cocktail

The Boulevardier

View in: oz | ml | shots

The Boulevardier comes courtesy of Craig’s recent post, who in turn took it from Ted “Dr Cocktail” Haigh’s column in Imbibe. The original recipe called for a 3:2:2 ratio, but upon trying that I found the Campari a little too dominant. However, upping the Bourbon to a 2:1:1 ratio, and using a nice spicy Bourbon like Buffalo Trace, made the drink more to my liking. Paul even swapped in rye, which I have yet to do but sounds tasty.

The increased Bourbon moves it from an afterthought to the headliner, with the drink kicking off with a nice dose of bourbon, and an almost sweet taste with some aromatics in the background. However, it doesn’t take long for the Campari to show up, with a bitter hit that develops as the drink progresses. The lemon zest also blossoms towards the end, resulting in a complex, evolving finish. Overall, a pretty good cocktail, and certainly the most appealing Campari-based drink I have tried yet.

Negroni cocktail


View in: oz | ml | shots

It’s probably a year since I made my first and only Negroni, and while I did finish the drink it certainly wasn’t the most enjoyable cocktail I had tried. However, after the success of the Boulevardier I decided it was perhaps time to take another look at what is perhaps the most famous Campari cocktail. Legend has it the drink was invented in 1919 when Count Negroni requested gin instead of soda water in his Americano. The drink doesn’t turn up in cocktail guides until the fifties, which casts some doubt over that story, but whatever the truth it is without doubt a true classic.

My memories of the Negroni centre mainly on the extremely bitter flavour the drink had. I was pleasantly startled then, when the taste that greeted me this time around was an orangey sweetness, with a slight floral quality. There were also plenty of gin notes, no doubt helped by the fact I used Tanqueray, a nice strong traditional gin. Like the Boulevardier it didn’t take long for the bitterness of the Campari to come through, but this time it really seemed to work, blending perfectly with the other flavours in the drink. Much to my surprise, and delight, I found myself really enjoying the Negroni.

I think I may have finally cracked Campari…

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Posted in Bourbon, Campari, Gin, Recipes, Vermouth

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46 responses to “Campari, take four”

  1. anavolena anavolena says:

    i have to confess i’ve never tried campari at this point, but i just started playing with a bottle of aperol, and really enjoy an “aperol negroni.” can’t believe no one has named that variation yet (at least that i’ve found).

  2. gilrain gilrain says:

    I always marvel at reports that Campari isn’t sweet enough — it’s extremely sweet, almost too sweet. Yes, it’s also quite bitter, but those two flavors aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Anyway, it is challenging, but it’s worth the trouble to get a taste for it — now that I have, there’re few things I like better as an aperitif than Campari on the rocks with a twist of orange peel.

  3. Bastian Bastian says:

    I don’t know which sweet vermouth you have been using but IMHO Campari goes best with Antica Formula. I think it takes off some of the bitter edges and intertwines better than all other sweet vermouths.
    If you like tequila you might also want to try your Negroni substituting the gin for a 100% Blanco Tequila and rounding it off with a grapefruit twist. Good stuff.

  4. Dinah Dinah says:

    I’ll second that recommendation for Carpano Antica.

  5. Jay Jay says:

    gilrain – no doubt there is a sweet component to Campari’s taste. However, for me at least, the overwhelming flavour is the bitterness.

    Bastian & Dinah – I did indeed use Carpano Antica. It’s pretty much my default sweet vermouth these days, really lovely stuff.

    The tequila variation sounds interesting. I don’t actually have any blanco tequila at the moment, but with spring approaching I will have to rectify that.

  6. Ameture Hour Ameture Hour says:

    Jay, now that you are starting to come around to Campari you should try the drink below. It is actually a slight modification I made to a drink I saw over at Cocktail Chronicles. The drink had originally called for Aperol instead of Campari, so I changed the ratios slightly to account for the increased bitterness. I think it makes for a really great drink, especially with Spring around the corner; floral but with a refreshing bite. Paul didn’t give his version a name so I started calling mine the Bitter Elder. So far, everyone who has tried it loves it and many weren’t all that used to liquor.

    1 1/2 ounces gin
    1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
    1/2 ounce Campari
    3/4 ounce St. Germain

  7. Brendon Brendon says:

    Heres a good one with Compari not too sweet. Ive noticed that sweet and sour citrus flavors really make compari easy to palate but also bring out its flavor. Heres one I like:

    2 jig Light Rum (1 if you really like Compari)
    1 Jig Compari (2 if you really like Compari)
    2 jig No pulp fresh orange juice
    1 jig fresh grapefruit juice

    stir, serve on rocks.

  8. Ouroboros Ouroboros says:

    Jay, I recommend Paul Harrington’s Jasmine. It brings Campari and gin into a drink that tastes remarkably like grapefruit juice, but somehow more ethereal.

    I swear I once had a bottle of Campari on which the back label said something almost romantic about the necessity of tasting Campari three times before one can appreciate it. Perhaps your bottle threatens this too?

  9. Gonçalo Gonçalo says:

    The “Jasmine Cocktail” is indeed worth a recomendation, as well as Bastian’s “Agaveoni”. I had a similar aproach as Ameture Hour on St.Germain:

    Comte de Sureau
    40 ml Gin (Beefeater 47°)
    32 ml St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
    8 ml Campari

    On The Rocks with Orange Twist. Named after the Earl Camille Negroni and Elderflower; in French.


  10. Jay Jay says:

    I have tried the Jasmine before, but not being a massive fan of grapefruit I never really found it that appealing.

    I am just sipping on Gonçalo’s “Comte de Sureau” as I write this, and I’m quite impressed. The St Germain is maybe a little heavy but the elderflower and orange work together wonderfully, and the Campari lends a subtle undertone that works well. It’s also a lovely pinky hue – I may have to cover this in a post just so I can take a photo of it!

    I will have to try Ameture Hour’s version to see what the lemon brings to the drink…

  11. Anna Anna says:

    I’ve always had campari as a simple Bicicletta made with Dry Prosecco and Campari. I know it’s not fancy, but I enjoy it. BTW – thank you for the Lillet recipes! It’s wonderful to have an alternative to Vermouth (I can’t drink vermouth without getting horribly sick – but Lillet doesn’t do that to me.) The HoopLa is great. Thanks.

  12. Ouroboros Ouroboros says:

    Now Lillet Blanc in a Negroni (slightly less tan the sweet vermouth its replacing) makes a nice change.

  13. Gerald Gerald says:

    For me, Campari has been a lifelong passion. First introduced to Campari with Orange Juice (helps for those who like a bit more sweetness to their drink), to eventually drinking Campari with a bit of soda (very refreshing). But I really enjoy Campari in mixed cocktails. In particular I like to create a Manhattan but substitute the sweet vermouth for Campari and just a teaspoon of Maraschino Cherry juice. Another favorite (I call it My Special) is equal parts of Campari, Bourbon (a good quality such as Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek or Woodford Reserve) and Gin (also a quality brand) shaken and served in a martini glass. The flavors go so well together, no individual alcohol overpowering the other. If you especially like bourbon or gin or Campari, simply change the proportions, but equal is still my favorite.

  14. Jay Jay says:

    Bourbon, gin and Campari eh? That does sound interesting. Thanks for the tip Gerald!

  15. Tiare Tiare says:

    Wow..another Campari geek..i thought i (almost) was alone..

    Your Special is close to one of mine.
    The first is Campari+Bourbon+lemon twist. The second is more odd, its Campari+ JWray overproof+limejuice.
    The rest is Campari on the rocks with a orange, and negroni and etc..I also have a life long relationship with Campari and don`t want to be without it.

  16. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    The story of The Marquis de Negroni is correct but he was not a Count.

    Thank you.

  17. Tiare Tiare says:

    It would be very interesting to know the correct story concerning the Marquis de Negroni if he was not a count as i`m in the process of writing about the Negroni for my blog.

  18. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    After a review of my family history begining in 1131 he was a Count!

    Tiare, Thank you for your email

  19. Tiare Tiare says:

    I`m glad you confirm that because that`s what i wrote in my upcoming post.

    Cheers and thanks!

  20. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    You can see a video on how to make the Negroni cocktail here:

    It is made with equal parts of gin, campari and sweet vermouth. Serve in an old fashioned glass over ice and garnished with an orange slice. It is considered an apéritif, or a pre-dinner cocktail intended to stimulate the appetite.

    It was invented by General Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni, Here is his brief bio:
    (Born: Castle of San Colombano 4 April 1829- Died: Alencon, Orne, 22 October 1913).
    Pascal joined the French Army at 18 years of age and retired as a Brigadier General after a long illustrious career spanning 44 years. He is best remembered in the French Army annals for leading the legendary charge of cuirassiers in the Battle of Reichsoffen during the Franco Prussian War of 1870. As a reward for his valiant actions and exemplary conduct he was personally decorated on 20 August 1870 by the French Emperor, Louis Napoleon, with the Officer’s Cross of the Imperial Legion of Honor. On 3 September 1870 he was captured by the Prussians during the Battle of Sedan and spent time as a prisoner of war until his liberation 28 March 1871. On 27 December 1884 he was promoted to Brigadier General and on 4 May 1889 he was named Commander of the Legion of Honor. In 1891 he retired to his Chateau de Rochefeuille, near Mayenne, Mayenne. Pascal Olivier was the reputed inventor of the famous “Negroni Cocktail” (equal parts of Campari, Gin, and Sweet Vermouth, served in a short glass over ice and garnished with an orange slice).

  21. Tiare Tiare says:

    Thank you for all this information and the video! That brief bio was very useful for my post as its always more interesting to add the history of a cocktail to the recipe.


  22. Tiare Tiare says:

    BTW:I forgot to ask this,where is Camillo in the full name? is it Pascal Olivier Camillo Count de Negroni?

  23. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    In review of the family history the correct name and title would be General Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni.

    I was unable to confirm when the Camillo was eliminated from his name but at that time it was not uncommon to drop or eliminate names, as tiles and land where acquired.

    FYI, The Castle at San Colombano in Corsica is still in the family.

    Thank you.

  24. Tiare Tiare says:

    Thank you for all info, its really interesting! i didn`t know that they dropped names at that time. I will read about San Colombano.

  25. Jay Jay says:

    Thanks for all the extra info Noel! How exciting to have the creator of the Negroni as an ancestor.

  26. Darryl Darryl says:

    I’ve also heard the line about trying Campari three times before you eventually come around to it, and silly as it sounds, I think there’s something to that. The first time I tasted Campari (by itself, and then in a Negroni) I thought it was terrible. But I gave it another shot (so to speak) a few days later and was suprised to find that I didn’t recoil from the glass. The herbal and citrus notes were clearer and the bitterness wasn’t as pronounced, just another dimension of flavor. The human palate isn’t geared to enjoy bitter flavors as much as sweet, salty, and sour ones, so you pretty much have to acclimate your tastebuds to them. Campari is definitely an acquired taste, but I love the possibilities its flavor profile presents in terms of mixing. A splash of Campari can be just the thing to give a citrus cocktail or highball a little more zip, and it’s a natural partner for vermouths and herbal liquors like gin.

  27. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    Jay, thank you for your comment.

    This is for all of you, to answer the question about changing names. On July 17, 1793 my family was declared traitors to the French revolution as we where at the service of King Louis XVI as the Corsica Black Night(Negroni) and executioners of the realm. So yes we had a few name changes and hid until the Corsica Napoleon became Emperor of France. There are two movies lossely based on our family; The Corsica Brothers in 1941 with Douglas
    Fairbanks, Jr, and more recently “Start The Revolution Without Me” with Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland. Yes, changing name was a matter of survival!

    Darrly, I agree drinking Negroni’s is certainly an acquired taste.

  28. tiare tiare says:

    Thank you Noel for all this info, i find it incredibly interesting.

  29. aperol | Two At The Most says:

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  30. Mike Christoff Mike Christoff says:

    I have read that it was Gaspare Campari himself who said that it is necessary to drink Campari three times before you will begin to enjoy it.

  31. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    Yes, I have the same info on Gaspare as my father’s middle name came from the same without the e (Gaspar). For me I have to have had a few drinks before I have the guts to drink some Negroni or Campari on ice…………….LOL

  32. Kevin Farney Kevin Farney says:

    This is a fantastic discussion on my favorite cocktail. I’ve discovered I prefer the Negroni with more gin and less sweet vermouth: 2 oz gin, .75 oz Campari, & .5 oz sweet vermouth.

  33. Tiare Tiare says:

    My first Campari i had in Italy and i was only 15. After that i have had it all my life..and will never stop drinking it.

  34. CAFE SOL-BAR-BLOG» Blogarchiv » Wer kennt Verwandte oder Nachfahren des Grafen? says:

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  35. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    Negroni ancestry.

  36. Jeff Jeff says:

    just browsing the web on a Sat morning and came across this site. i’m slightly obsessed with Campari at the moment. i happen to like the bitterness although i’ve never had it straight. my favorite drink of the moment:

    1 shot of Campari
    1 shot of Tanqueray Rangpur
    juice from one lime

    the great thing about it is that it takes you through the sour, sweet and bitter tastes in the first sip. damn…now i’m getting thristy…only 6 minutes until noon…

  37. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    The Negroni Family Website.

  38. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:

    The story of Count de Negroni the inventor of the drink “Negroni”!

  39. Jay Jay says:

    Thanks for the links Noel – interesting stuff.

  40. BigSteve BigSteve says:

    A classic Negroni is indeed too intense. To me the trick is to combine the best features on the Negroni and the Americano. In other words, serve the standard Negroni ingredients (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari) over ice and add some soda, seltzer, or sparkling water. This allows you to enjoy the flavors of the ingredients without being overwhelmed.

  41. Dinah Dinah says:

    Mmm, intensity. Bring it on full force, I say!

  42. Noel Negroni Noel Negroni says:


    I like this Mmm and it’s full Force!

    Big hug to both on this perfect “Negroni Drink” and part of the holiday’s….!

    Noel Xavier Negroni

  43. robbor robbor says:

    Aperol is a softer version of Campari, nice straight on the rocks

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  45. Radu Radu says:

    Caboorco, I call it, see if you can unravel the mystery of that name ;) . Materials:
    - 1/2 part CAmpari
    - 1 part BOurbon (Maker’s Mark for taste and strength)
    - squeeze of ORange juice, and half a slice in
    - dash of COca-Cola
    Method: stir Campari and the bourbon together, pour over ice in an old fashioned glass, drop in the orange juice squeeze and the slice, add a dash of coke, stir again.

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