Drink of the Week: The Campari Cocktail

The Campari CocktailSo, you’re starting a new job requiring a long enough commute from your home that it will ultimately require a costly move. Then, the second day of your aforementioned lengthy commute, your car starts hesitating in stop-and-start cross county traffic. Next thing you know, you’re staring down the barrel of a big, big transmission repair bill while suddenly finding yourself with a rented Ford Focus in your driveway instead of your charmingly banged-up Buick.

When that happens, you don’t want a drink that requires a lot of fuss. It’s better if it trying it out helps finish up some nearly empty bottles, lightening your liquor load on your impending cross-megalopolis move.

So, I’ll spare you the usual classic cocktail history lesson as well as the tortured connection to current events or this weekend’s holiday. (Could any cocktail possibly be appropriate for Memorial Day, anyway?) This is clearly a time when you — by which I obviously mean “I” — want my evening cocktail to be simple, stimulating for the taste buds, and strong — which is why I’ve gone and doubled the amounts for my version of today’s DOTW. Feel free to halve it if you’re situation is different or if you’ll be driving anytime soon.

The Campari Cocktail

2 ounces Campari
1 1/2 ounces vodka (preferably 100 proof)
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Lemon or orange twist (fairly optional garnish)

Combine Campari, vodka, and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake as vigorously as you can manage and strain into — what else? — a chilled cocktail glass. If you like, throw in a lemon or orange twist — it can’t hurt and it might help. Sip and, if you you’re not likely to give a significant amount of your personal worth to a mechanic, thank your freaking lucky stars.

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I’ve praised the oh-so-sweet and then oh-so-bitter one-two punch of Campari before while discussing the hugely underappreciated Negroni as well as the oh-so-refreshing Americano. As the name implies, here’s a drink where the Campari flavor is really and truly front and center, perhaps too much for some folks. Certainly, replacing the gin in the Negroni with vodka (and actually using less of it), doesn’t do anything to complicate the drink or stand in the way of the Campari flavors, even if they could use a bit of leavening. That’s why I think I found adding in the stronger flavor of 100 proof Smirnoff resulted in a more satisfying taste experience as well as a more effective attitude adjuster.

Vodka-disliking cocktail snobs won’t be surprised that, while I’ve tried this drink with a number of brands, the results with the 80 proof vodkas, however, didn’t vary by much. Indeed, the very cheap Seagram’s and the much more high-endish Kettle One I used to make it didn’t really change the experience by that much. Still, since I like Campari, I’m declaring that a reason to like this drink. In fact, next week’s drink will also feature it, but it’ll be just a mite more complex…unless something else happens to my car.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Americano

the AmericanoOf all the boozy discoveries I’ve made in the relatively short time I’ve been writing DOTW, easily the most personally fascinating to me is Campari and the great cocktail made with it, the Negroni. Mine is a lonely passion, however. American bartenders tend to play down Campari and Campari-based drinks, even while they usually stock it. It’s not hard to see why because it’s a dangerous drink, taste wise. It’s essentially the bitterest of bitters mixed with the sweetest of liqueurs. When you drink it straight — and you really should, just once — the sweet part leads the charge followed by a sharp, intoxicating punch of bitterness. Pleasure followed by a punishment I personally find quite addictive.

Fortunately, the Negroni is not alone among Campari-based cocktail classics. This history of the Americano goes back the mid-19th century, when it was first known as the Milano-Torino before the Italians noticed that we Yanks we’re taking to the drink. No doubt, that was because it does such a great job of softening the Campari 1-2 punch.

Wikipedia also points out that the Americano is the first bar order made by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. Relax, however; you don’t have to be a super-spy to enjoy this and you certainly don’t need to be a super-mixologist to make it. In fact, it’s a perfect drink for lightweights and/or lazy bartenders with a mild adventurous streak.

The Americano

1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Carbonated water
Orange slice or lemon peel (optional, but desirable, garnish)

Pour equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth over ice cubes in a rocks/old fashioned glass. Top off with carbonated water of your choice. Add citrus slice/peel of your choice. Stir.

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If you’d like a bit more hydration or if you’d like to put a bit more distance between yourself and the Campari bitters, it’s also perfectly acceptable to make an Americano in a Colllins/highball, leaving more room for the carbonated water. As to the type of soda water, club soda or plain seltzer/carbonated water are fine, though I understand 007/Ian Fleming suggested using Perrier with it in the short story, “A View to a Kill.” On the other hand, since that magnificent snob recommended using the French mineral water as a relatively inexpensive way to improve “a bad drink,” he couldn’t possibly have been talking about the Americano.

  

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