If you’ve ever had a Negroni or one of its many riffs, you’ve tried Campari. The red bitter liqueur lends its distinctive bittersweet flavor profile and bright red hue to countless classic and modern cocktails.
Bartender Gaspare Campari launched his signature liqueur in 1860, in Novara, Italy, after two decades of experimentation, and his proprietary recipe reportedly remains the same today. Campari’s striking red color was unique at the time and went on to inspire other red bitter liqueurs like Aperol and Select Aperitivo.
In the early 20th century, Campari grew in popularity thanks to its inclusion in classic cocktails like the Americano, the Negroni, and the Boulevardier. Although the company focused mainly on its namesake product for most of its history, Campari began to acquire other brands in the 1990s, and today has more than 50 spirits and liqueurs in its portfolio, including one-time rival Aperol.
Like most bitter liqueur and amaro producers, Campari does not reveal any of the ingredients in its recipe aside from “bitter herbs, aromatic fruit and plants.” However, it is widely speculated that the chinotto orange—tart and more intensely sour than typical oranges—helps give the liqueur its distinct bitter and citrusy flavor profile.
Depending on where it’s produced, Campari is bottled at an ABV of 20.5%–28%. (In the United States, it has an ABV of 24%.) At one time, the liqueur received its bright red hue from carmine, or the crushed-up scales of cochineal insects, but Campari stopped using carmine in 2006 and now relies on artificial coloring.
Campari’s intensity means it’s best served with some dilution, so it’s rarely sipped neat. It can be topped with soda water for a Campari and Soda or enjoyed in endless classic and modern classic cocktails like the ones below. Although you’ll find the bitter in plenty of modern bartender creations, from a low-proof sour to a tequila Ramos Gin Fizz variation, the classics are a great place to start. Here are 11 of the most iconic Campari cocktails.
Thought to be the precursor to the Negroni, this simple combination of Campari and sweet vermouth, lengthened with soda water, was first served at Gaspare Campari’s Milan bar, Campari Caffè, in the 1860s. The low-proof drink was created as a simple riff on the Milano-Torino, which mixed Campari and sweet vermouth but omitted the soda water. It likely wasn’t called the Americano until the 1920s, however, when Americans began traveling to Europe in droves and developed a taste for the drink.
This equal-parts combination of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth may be the most widely-known Campari cocktail. As legend has it, the drink was created in 1919 when Italian Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender at Bar Casoni in Florence to strengthen his favorite cocktail, the Americano, by swapping the soda water for gin. Since then, the Negroni has inspired countless riffs, but the ingredient that almost always remains constant is Campari.
This Negroni variation swaps gin for bourbon, producing an equally flavorful but richer and more warming cocktail. The drink is said to have been created by Erskine Gwynne, the publisher of Boulevardier, a magazine for expats living in Paris in the 1920s, but it was popularized in Harry MacElhone’s 1927 book Barflies and Cocktails. While the classic Negroni calls for equal parts of each ingredient, the Boulevardier often leans on a heavier measure of bourbon to cut through the bitter Campari and herbal sweet vermouth.
Campari adds its bittersweet and citrusy profile to this tropical-leaning combination of rum, pineapple and lime juices, and demerara syrup. The drink dates to the 1970s, when it was created by Jeffrey Ong at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton’s Aviary Bar and served to guests as a welcome drink. While the original recipe called for a generic dark rum, many modern bartenders opt for a richer blackstrap rum and scale back the amount of pineapple juice.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
Although the Aperol Spritz has received international fame, the Campari Spritz is equally easy to make and drink, albeit a slightly more bitter drink. It employs the same 3-2-1 formula—three parts prosecco, two parts bitter liqueur (in this case Campari), and one part club soda. Like its Aperol counterpart, the Campari Spritz gets garnished with a fresh orange slice.
Boulevardier fans may find a new friend in this offshoot that calls for equal parts rye whiskey, Campari, and dry vermouth. Created in the 1920s by famed bartender and author Harry MacElhone, it’s said to be named for his “old pal” William “Sparrow” Robinson, the sports editor for The New York Herald in Paris. The resulting drink has spice notes from the rye, and is both lighter and drier than its predecessor, thanks to the drier choice of vermouth and a zesty lemon peel garnish.
With a name that loosely translates to “mistaken Negroni,” this riff swaps the gin in the classic recipe for prosecco or another sparkling wine. It was invented at Milan’s Bar Basso in 1967 when proprietor Mauricio Stochetto mistakenly grabbed a bottle of prosecco instead of gin. It turned out to be a happy mistake: The drink’s spritzy and low-alcohol nature (somewhere on the spectrum between an Americano and a traditional Negroni) makes it ideal for aperitivo hour.
This Campari-orange juice combination, named for Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, is said to represent Italy’s unification, with Campari hailing from the North and orange juice from the South. Its vivid hue also nods to the red shirts worn by Garibaldi’s followers. The two-ingredient drink took off stateside in 2015, when New York City bar Dante put it on the opening menu, aerating the orange juice to produce a “fluffy” texture.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
This bubbly cocktail is similar to the Campari Spritz but leans only on soda water for effervescence, and swaps the prosecco for a dry white wine like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. The drink is said to date to 1930s Italy, where it was named for locals’ preferred mode of transportation after a few drinks.
As its name implies, this Negroni variation simply swaps gin for the Mexican spirit, creating a smoky and slightly savory take on the classic. While it’s unknown who first mixed mezcal into a Negroni, the modern classic was popularized at agave-focused bars like New York City’s now-shuttered Mayahuel in the early 2000s.
On paper, this cocktail may look like a Boulevardier with the addition of chocolate bitters. However, bartender Sam Ross says he created the drink as a Negroni riff to make use of newly released Bittermen’s chocolate bitters in the early 2000s before the classic Boulevardier came back into prominence. The bitters round out the bourbon and sweet vermouth and also help to temper Campari’s bitterness, producing a drink that Ross has described as “a love child between a Negroni and Manhattan.”