If you’re a fan of bitter drinks, no doubt you’ve heard of Campari. This herbal aperitif from Italy has been a staple in cocktail bars for over a century. This week we thought we’d take a quick dive into the history of this beverage, plus share one of our favorite cocktail recipes with you. Don’t forget that you can find it in our online store or in any of our physical locations around Chicago.
Campari got its start in 1860, when a young mixologist named Gaspare Campari concocted a liqueur containing over 60 different natural ingredients including various spices, herbs, tree bark, and fruit peels. He named it “Bitter all'Uso d'Holanda.” Campari lived in Novara, a small city to the west of Milan. His signature bitters didn’t long to become the talk of the town.
In 1904, demand finally outgrew his capacity, and the first Campari factory opened. About a decade later, he opened up a cafe called Camparino right next to the Duomo cathedral in the heart of Milan. It was good timing, because the upscale Galleria fashion mall attracted the sort of upscale patrons who appreciated a sophisticated drink.
By the 1920s, the Negroni cocktail became a staple in the cafes and bars of Milan, and Campari’s signature bitterness was the centerpiece to this now-legendary drink. It certainly helped that the company commissioned talented artists to work on their branding campaign; the bottle’s iconic label and font date back to this time.
Since then, Campari has made a conscious effort to partner with some of the most iconic avant-garde artists of the age. It’s a testament to the company’s desire to appear on the edge of culture, and their partnerships with designers, photographers, and models who are at the peak of their powers speaks to the timelessness of this classic drink.
All the while, the recipe is the same now as it was when Gaspare Campari experimented with it back in the 1860s. Well—almost. In 2006 the company switched from using cochineal dye (which comes from crushed beetles) to vegan red dye. Unless you’re a purist, you probably won’t notice the difference.Anyways, to make a Negroni, mix equal parts Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and Campari. Serve on the rocks and with a twist of orange peel, and don’t forget to make enough for your friends!