They might share the same scarlet glow, but not all bitter red aperitivi are created equal. “There are over 25 receptors for bitter flavor, and we all have a different perception of bitterness, which is fascinating,” says global Martini ambassador Roberta Mariani.
Whether you’re craving bright, overt citrus notes, a hint of the floral or bracing bitterness, there’s a red bottle for you. Add one of these eight to your shelf.
Aperitivo Select ($34)
This offering that sits between Aperol and Campari “has a flavor profile that is citrusy, a little bit sweet and mainly bitter,” says Marco Montefiori, the U.S. and Latin America market manager for Gruppo Montenegro. It’s produced in Venice, where in the 1920s the product was first splashed into the OVS (Original Venetian Spritz). Make your own OVS with the aperitivo, prosecco and soda. (If the Spritz isn’t garnished with olives, it’s not the authentic recipe, Montefiori says.)
Cappelletti Specialino Aperitivo ($19)
This is perhaps the oldest style of red bitters, as its base uses wine rather than a spirit and it’s flavored with natural carmine, the scarlet pigment obtained from the cochineal beetle. “Cappelletti offers sweet, bitter, citrus and herbal notes with vinous texture and a drying finish,” says Eric Seed, owner of Haus Alpenz, which imports the product. Try it in a Bicicletta, with white wine and a soda top.
Contratto Bitter ($25)
Flavored with wormwood, bitter and sweet orange peel, cardamom, gentian and juniper berries, along with mint, ginger, rhubarb and sage, it’s “less bitter than Campari and the flavor profile is less dominant and more balanced,” according to Anja Cramer, the export manager and an owner of the brand. Try it in a simple drink with a squeeze of fresh orange juice.
Galliano L’Aperitivo ($18)
Made with more than 50 ingredients, including rhubarb, Alpine herbs like sage, lavender, cardamom, and Mediterranean bergamot, bitter orange, chinotto, tangerine and grapefruit, this Italian spirit has fresh citrus notes, mild sweetness and a long, gentle finish. “L’Aperitivo’s low alcohol content coupled with a balance of sweet and bitter is unlike any other on the market today,” says brand manager Tanya Cohn.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
Luna Aperitivo ($35)
Produced by Don Ciccio & Figli, a craft distillery in Washington, D.C., and modeled after the Italian bitter of Turin, this deep cherry-hued liqueur is crafted with 16 botanicals. Honeydew and prickly pear impart sweetness, tempering the bitterness of grapefruit and chicory. It adds a smack of intensity and pop of color to cocktails that call for a bitter edge.
Luxardo Aperitivo ($20)
This sophisticated liqueur “was designed to be complex with a balanced bitterness and persistent sweetness,” says Caitlin Vartain, the Anchor Distilling Company brand manager for imported spirits and cocktail modifiers. A mild proof and bright orange flavor is balanced by notes of rhubarb and gentian root in an aperitivo that highlights the flavors bitter fans crave.
Martini Riserva Speciale Bitter ($30)
This latest innovation from this Italian company is inspired by a recipe that dates to 1872. “Three rare botanicals [Italian artemisia, African caluma and Angostura bark] deliver a unique richness and complexity through different dimensions of bitterness,” says global Martini ambassador Roberta Mariani. It’s also rested in the same Tino cask used for Riserva Speciale Vermouth di Torino.
Peychaud’s Aperitivo ($25)
Like the company’s beloved aromatic bitters indispensable in a Sazerac, Peychaud’s aperitivo boasts a unique and subtle sweetness that lingers throughout. Jana Ritter, marketing manager for bitters and New Orleans specialty brands, describes the flavor profile as bursting with citrus fruits and a subtle hint of herbs and candied spice. Enjoy it on the rocks or in a Boulevardier variation.