Back in the early 1970s, my husband and I often served the Italian spirit, Campari.
I no longer remember how our affection evolved for this bitter drink, but we likely gave it a splash of club soda and felt very European while we sipped it sitting outside on our little deck. We even had a Campari patio umbrella.
Fast-forward to the present, and my husband and I often find ourselves at Note Bistro and Wine Bar on N. 2nd Street in Harrisburg. It has become one of our favorite haunts for both the innovative food and the lovely cocktails prepared by Andrew, a professional bartender in every sense of the word.
Andrew describes his bartending skills as “classic.” And while that is true, he often puts a little spin on his classic drinks to make them extraordinary. I have often enjoyed the cocktail Andrew calls “The Sicilian” (I guess because I am). It is a little Manhattan-like and is made with bourbon, Amaro, Aperol and orange bitters. I asked what Amaro was, and Andrew explained it refers to the family of Italian bitter “digestivos” or digestive aperitifs. And that’s where Campari comes in—it too is part of the Amaro family. Who knew?
I wanted to learn more about this intriguing group of spirits. The Food and Wine website, along with one called Amaro 101, provided a wealth of information. Amaro, they said, is made by infusing grape brandy with a mix of herbs, bark, citrus peels, spices and flowers. It is then sweetened with sugar syrup and aged until silky and bittersweet.
I was amazed at the number of Amari out there, ranging from low to high on the “bitterness scale.” These spirits can be served straight over ice or mixed with vodka, gin, fruited liqueurs, lemon juice and different types of bitters. Some examples are:
- Amaro Montenegro: light and gentle with notes of orange and rose water
- Amaro Ramazzotti: sweet with hints of root beer and vanilla
- Amaro Averna: flavors of licorice, citrus and chocolate
- Aperol: bitter and sweet oranges with traces of rhubarb and other herbs
- Campari: bright red and flavored with bitter barks and herbs—unique flavor with exact ingredients unknown
If you want to try your hand at this new (and becoming very popular) cocktail craze, here are some easy recipes to try.
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
- Club soda
This is a good place to start. Mix the Campari and vermouth together and top with chilled club soda. Add ice. This drink is lighter than the traditional Negroni that follows.
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
- 1 oz gin
Mix all ingredients together and serve over ice. This is the traditional Campari cocktail and is stronger than the Americano.
- 2 oz bourbon
- 1 oz Averna
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake together with ice and serve straight up in a martini glass or over additional ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Add a cherry (Luxardo, if you can find them).
Or, for something very simple and cooling, try the Aperol spritz. Place an ounce or two of Aperol in a champagne flute and fill with very cold prosecco. Garnish with an orange twist.
Try one these unusual cocktails in place of your gin and tonic before the summer ends. You may find a new favorite. Or, if Amaro drinks are not your style, pay Andrew at Note a visit. He will introduce you to the “Bee Sting” with vodka and chili-infused honey; the Casablanca, gin touched with elderflower, or a PB&J, made with peanut-infused vodka and strawberry.
And, if you ask, Andrew can tell you the story of Dr. Peychaud of Peychaud’s bitters fame. But first, give his “Sazerac” a try!
Alla tua salute!
Author:Rosemary Ruggieri Baer