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Cocktails in Italy

By Edited Dec 20, 2013 3 11

What to drink while enjoying La Dolce Vita

In the United States, we do not discriminate when it comes to enjoying our favorite alcoholic beverages: we consume Russian vodka, Mexican tequila, Scotch whiskey, and Jamaican rum without prejudice.  In Italy, however, one spirit stands alone: that violently-red, bitter elixir that finds its way into almost every Italian cocktail.  Campari.

One’s first introduction to Campari can be a little shocking and not always entirely pleasant.  It is much more astringent than you are initially prepared for.  It’s an “acquired taste,” as they say.  However, once you acquire the taste, there’s no going back.

Here I’ve listed some of the most popular ways to experience this strange, alluring potion. 

Campari Soda

The height of simplicity: equal measures of Campari and Club Soda poured over ice in a tumbler glass.  Add a healthy slice of orange and this makes for the perfect pre-lunch cocktail on a hot summer day when you’re idling at a small table under a big umbrella in the middle of a sunlit piazza.  Or even if you’re just sitting in your living room and dreaming of such a scene.

Americano

Equal parts Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Club Soda on the rocks with an orange slice.  But, “Americano?” you ask.  If this is such an Italian drink, why the American moniker?  Permit me to shine a light on a little known detail concerning that darkest of periods in American history, Prohibition.  As we all painfully recall, Uncle Sam severely restricted the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol during these bleak years.  In the midst of the Great Depression, the average working man was cruelly denied his only respite after a hard day’s labor.  However, some clever Italian-American exposed a loophole in the law which allowed Campari to be designated as “medicinal,” and therefore legal.  It is considered a digestive, after all.  Once this discovery gained attention, a sudden, unexplained wave of "digestive aliments" swept across our great nation and the Americano was born.  Grazie, Italia!

Negroni

Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Gin.  As always, on the rocks with an orange slice or lemon twist.  This one packs a wallop, so proceed with caution.  Two of these and you’ll be singing, “O Sole Mio,” even if you don’t know the words.  For the purists, this is the only Campari cocktail worth mentioning.  It is the ideal choice before dinner to heighten your appetite and prepare your stomach for the meal.  But unless you play the mandolin and speak Neapolitan dialect, you’d better just have one.

Spritz

2 parts Campari, 1 part Club Soda, 3 parts sparkling white wine.  Served with a few cubes of ice in a wine glass, and garnished with a straw and an orange slice.  The word “Spritz” sounds a bit silly, not to mention German.  Which it is—both silly and German.  In fact, this creation comes to us from the northeast of Italy by way of Austria.  What’s more, if you drink this beverage in its adoptive hometown of Padua, it will usually be made with the sweeter Aperol instead of Campari, and they’ll inexplicably replace the orange with a big green olive.  Yuck!  Take my advice and stick to the Campari version.

Obviously there have been other Campari concoctions dreamt up by well-intended (but misguided) bartenders.  Don’t be swayed by these blatant acts of sacrilege.  Stick with the traditions, like any self-respecting Italian would. 

So now go put on your Ray-Bans, hop on your Vespa and head down to the nearest piazza to give Campari a try.  Salute!


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Comments

Aug 21, 2012 4:31am
Derby
Your article brought back the memory of sitting outside a little cafe in Spain and ordering Campari and soda because it sounded so sophisticated. I'm sure the look on my face after the first sip was anything but sophisticated. Good job.
Aug 22, 2012 2:48pm
Romano-Americano
Derby, I sympathize with you--my intial reaction was the same. However, after living in Italy for a while, it was inevitable that I'd eventually see the light. Which I have now, for better or worse. Give it another try...or two. It'll grab you eventually!
Aug 21, 2012 7:25am
Ascentive
Great article!
We used to have Campari with orange juice ... haven't had that in a long time.

Thumbs Up!
~Anja~
Aug 22, 2012 2:52pm
Romano-Americano
Anja, Campari and orange juice is a perfectly acceptable alternative. In fact, had I included a fourth drink in the article, that would have been the one. I've done a little experimenting, trying to convince myself that this could even make a good subsititute for a Mimosa or Bellini at brunch, but sadly, it doesn't work. Even with the orange juice it should remain strictly on the aperitivo menu. Cheers!
Aug 21, 2012 12:58pm
JJEstephan
I love foods and drinks that you must acquire a taste for. I look forward to trying a Negroni!

Thanks for the great article.
JJEstephan
Aug 22, 2012 2:54pm
Romano-Americano
JJ, I'm the same way--anything unusual that others seem to be avoiding holds an odd appeal for me. And as long as your up for trying Campari, I think you're right to go straight for the Negroni. Enjoy!
Sep 18, 2012 6:44am
Finallyfast
This is great!
Will have Italian friends over this weekend, gonna impress them with Campari drinks - cool!

Great read!
Sep 18, 2012 2:02pm
Romano-Americano
Thanks, Finallyfast! I'm sure you're friends will be impressed...Italians really appreciate acts of hospitality and a Campari drink should make them feel right at home. Divertitevi! (Enjoy yourselves!)
Sep 20, 2012 11:07am
Michconnors
Great article! If only more of America would discover the Spritz - it's only available in a few restaurants in Boston so far. Aperol is one of my favorite aperitivi!
Sep 20, 2012 4:02pm
Romano-Americano
Wow, Michconnors, it's great that a few places in Boston offer a Spritz! I'm originally from Florida and I've NEVER seen it at a restaurant or bar. At the "fancier" Italian restaurants, you'll occasionally see the Negroni, but I've yet to come across a Spritz in the U.S. Cheers to that!
May 22, 2013 12:24pm
Zuke258
I have never had it and now I am leary of it. However, I also try to give new food and drinks at least a try.
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