Of Campari and Orange Bitters

August 1st, 2007

My previous experiences with Campari have left me less than impressed. I’ve tried both the Negroni and the Rendezvous but have found both of them somewhat overwhelmed by the bitterness introduced by the Campari. However, I’m not one to let a difficult ingredient keep me down – if I was I would never have gotten over my gin phobia and discovered all the wonderful cockails that use it.

The next cocktail in my attempt to conquer Campari is the Tailspin, a drink that uses just a dash of Campari along with some more familiar ingredients, including the wonderful Chartreuse. Those of you with a keen eye will spot its recipe is somewhat similar to the Bijou, but more on that in a second. At the moment I’m waiting to see if the Tailspin is a Campari cocktail I enjoy…

Tailspin cocktail


It’s always hard to know how much “a dash” is when dealing with ingredients that don’t come in bitters bottles with the tiny hole in the top. General consensus seems to rest at around ¼ teaspoon, so I tend to pour a tiny bit in to my bar-spoon, so it comes roughly half way up, and use that as my dash. It’s not exactly the most scientific of measures, but then again neither is specifying a dash as a measurement.

The Tailspin may well have been named by the taste profile it presents. It begins, like a tailspin in an aircraft, with the slow rotation of sweetness from the vermouth and Chartreuse. Then, as the taste lingers it plunges in to the herbal of the Chartreuse, along with a hint of bitterness from the Campari. It’s an interesting cocktail, but very rich and sweet. I wonder if my dash of Campari should have been a little more generous – and I never thought I would be thinking about adding more Campari in to a drink.

The Tailspin is an interesting drink, complex and perhaps an excellent digestif, but ultimately not that suited to my own tastes. It would be rude at this point not to mention the Bijou, a cocktail exactly the same as the Tailspin but for the use of orange bitters rather than Campari. But how much difference can one ingredient make…?

Bijou cocktail


The use of orange bitters rather than Campari presents, to my tastes at least, a more balanced drink. The bitters both take the edge off the sweetness, as well as introducing a bitterness at the end of the taste. They also lend a spicy edge which was lacking in the Tailspin and gives the cocktail an appealing overall taste. Again perhaps best served as a digestif, the Bijou is perhaps best defined by its dictionary definition – “small and elegant”.

Interestingly, like Gabriel I found the Bijou, as well as the Tailspin, to improve as they warmed up. Usually in a cocktail the opposite is the case, but with these the warmth seems to bring something more to the cocktail. I don’t know what it is, but everything seems to come together better once some warmth has been introduced to the mix. So if you do try these, maybe go easy on the ice, or at least let it sit for a short while. It’s worth it…

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Posted in Campari, Chartreuse, Gin, Orange Bitters, Recipes, Vermouth

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13 responses to “Of Campari and Orange Bitters”

  1. Mark Parry Mark Parry says:

    I love the Bijou and have been experimenting with the ratios a bit an have found that I like 1.5 oz gin, 1 oz sweet vermouth and 0.5 oz Chartreuse with two dashes orange bitters.

  2. Jay Jay says:

    Mark, that sounds like a much more balanced recipe for the Bijou. I will definitely have to give it a try – I will let you know what I think…

  3. Robert Hess Robert Hess says:

    My first introduction to Campari was many years ago on one of my first business flights… booze is free in business class, and being one to like to try new things I scanned the list to see what to try. Campari stood out since I recognized the name, but could never recall having had it. Stewardess asked me for my order and I told her… she asked if I wanted that with tonic, or soda… “Neither, just plain”…. “would you like ice with that?” she asked, a little concerned…. “No, straight is fine.”… as she turned to leave I noticed that she seemed down right confused. That should have been my warning. When it came, I took a sip and ZOWWIE! My GOD! This was the worst thing I had ever had. But being a long-time member of the clean plate club, I stood fast and finished it all. How could something SO awful be so well known? There must be some redeaming qualities. So every bar I went to I asked the bartender for some drink that was good which used Campari… time after time, each drink still had that “Campari” flavor to it… but gradually I noticed that I was learning to like it. Today, I can easily look forward to drinking Campari Straight.

    The Tailspin recipe on my site using Campari is one I have no idea where it came from. I know I ran across it somewhere, but I’ve gone through my books over and over again, and can’t find it again. All other recipes for it list it as essentially being the same thing as the Bijou. But personally I like my “Tailspin” better.

    Perhaps the most “Approachable” recipe using Campari I have is the “Jasmine”. When properly made, it tastes like grapefruit juice. And the cool thing about this recipe, is that the gin in it is playing a big role in making it taste like grapefruit.


  4. matt matt says:

    Looking for a new recipe using my newfound love Chartreuse, I tried out the Bijou tonight. Strangely, I found myself agreeing with it getting better as it warmed. Mark’s recipe above looks like something I’ll try next time – I could use less vermouth in this then what is called for here.

  5. Jay Jay says:

    Wow Robert, yeah I can imagine a straight swig of Campari having never had any before came as quite a shock! You’re a better man than I for finishing the whole glass… I’m not sure I could manage that.

    I recall seeing the Jasmine on your Cocktail Spirit show, and it’s on my ever-growing list of cocktails to try. I really love the idea that such disparate ingredients can combine to make such a different flavour. I will definitely give it a go, as I’m determined not to let Campari beat me.

  6. jimmy jimmy says:

    Ha. I think it’s what makes Robert Robert. I’m messing with Campari today, and I think it goes well with Brandy, but it’s hard to work with for sure.

  7. Robert Hess Robert Hess says:

    And let’s not forget the Negroni (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari.) Once you’ve ridden that horse, try switching out the gin for akvavit, I find that the caraway notes of the akvavit work better than gin in this drink.

  8. cocktailnerd » Blog Archive » Spotlight On!: Best of the Blogs - August ‘07 Edition - A blog of most things cocktail and alcohol related says:

    [...] Jay on ‘Of Campari and Bitters’ [...]

  9. Tiare Tiare says:

    Here is also a nice tropical drink with Campari, it was first served in the 70s at Aviary bar in Kuala Lumpur Hilton hotel in Malaysia.

    2.25 cl Campari
    4.5 Appleton 12
    1.5 cl fresh lime
    1.5 cl Pineapple juice

    Shake, Highball, Pineapple + cherry.

  10. Tiare Tiare says:

    Sorry..i forgot to write the name of the tropical drink, its Jungle Bird.

  11. Sheri Harrison Sheri Harrison says:

    Hi Jay – Been reading your blog for awhile and really like it. I figured I’d enter your 2-year anniversary contest by commenting on a post about my favorite cocktail – the Tailspin. Alex Day at Death & Company here in New York introduced me to it months ago and it’s become a weekly ritual. He coats the glass with Campari, which may equal more than a “dash”, but the balance is perfect.

  12. Buckley Buckley says:

    Just found your blog Jay

    I have been making a great Campari drink lately. There is a local distillery in Milwaukee called Rehorst that makes a gin distilled with WI ginseng and sweet basil. Take two orange slices, muddle them to death, lots of ice, two parts Rehorst gin and one part campari … great drink that gets better with each sip.

  13. Traumjob Chartreuse-Botschafter. Interview mit Matthew Dakers. says:

    [...] Da muss ich wohl den Bijou nennen. Zu gleichen Teilen  Green Chartreuse, süßer Wermut und Gin mit Orange Bitters. Gerührt [...]

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