Spirits & Liqueurs Liqueur

8 Bitter Red Liqueurs Giving Campari a Run for Its Money

Just because they share the same scarlet glow, doesn’t mean that every bitter red aperitivo is created equally. “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.

In other words, whether you’re craving bright, overt citrus notes, a hint of florality or just a persistent, drying, unapologetic bitterness, there’s a red bottle for you. These are eight to add to your shelf.

  • Galliano L’Aperitivo ($17)

    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, says brand manager Tanya Cohn. “L’Aperitivo’s low alcohol content coupled with a balance of sweet and bitter is unlike any other on the market today,” she says.

    How to drink it: In a Red Light Negroni, with Bols genever and sweet vermouth, or a Tuscan Hills, made with gin, grapefruit juice, honey syrup, lavender bitters and prosecco.

  • Peychaud’s Aperitivo ($23)

    Like the company’s beloved red bitters, indispensable in a Sazerac, Peychaud’s aperitivo touts a unique and subtle sweetness that lingers throughout, with bursts of citrus fruits paired with a subtle hint of herbs and candied spice, says Jana Ritter, the marketing manager for bitters and New Orleans specialty brands.

    How to drink it: Its complex taste is best enjoyed neat or on the rocks, but it’s also pretty great with Sazerac rye in a Boulevardier twist, in a Royal Street Fizz with Champagne and club soda or in a Peychaud’s Punch, where it mingles with white rum, lime juice and mint.

  • 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 alcohol content and bright orange is balanced by notes of rhubarb and gentian root in a product that highlights the flavors bitter fans crave.

    How to drink it: In an American Fizz with Junipero gin, lemon, blue curaçao and Perrier Pink Grapefruit, or in an Elgin Elixir, with BenRiach sherry-wood-matured 12-year-old single-malt scotch and Christian Drouin calvados.

  • 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 still flavored with natural carmine, the bright-red pigment obtained from the cochineal species of insect. Cappelletti offers a great dimension of sweet, bitter, citrus and herbal notes with vinous texture and a drying finish,” says Eric Seed, the principal and owner of Haus Alpenz, which importers the product.

    How to drink it: In a Bicyclette, or Bicicletta, with white wine, a splash of soda and a slice of citrus, or in a drier, less sweet Negroni variant.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • Martini Riserva Speciale Bitter ($27)

    New to the market this summer, this latest innovation from the Italian company is inspired by a recipe that dates back 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 Robert Mariani. It’s also rested in the same Tino cask used for Riserva Speciale Vermouth di Torino.

    How to drink it: In a classic Negroni or Boulevardier, in modern sips like a Per la Strada, with watermelon, lemon, rosewater and sparkling rosé, or mixed with fresh grapefruit juice and soda.

  • Aperitivo Select ($25)

    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 it was first splashed into the OVS (Original Venetian Spritz).

    How to drink it: The obvious choice is that OVS, where it’s mixed with prosecco and soda and served on the rocks with an orange slice and briny olives. (If the Spritz isn’t garnished with olives, it’s not the authentic recipe, says Montefiori says.)

  • Contratto Bitter ($25)

    This liqueur’s main flavors come from 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,” says Anja Cramer, the export manager and a partial owner of the brand.

    How to drink it: In a Bitter Orange with freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh basil, and in a Red Lips, with gin, freshly squeezed orange juice, Vieux Carré absinthe and grenadine.

  • Luna Amara Aperitivo ($35)

    Produced by Don Ciccio & Figli, a craft distillery in Washington, D.C., and modeled after the Italian bitter of Turin, this dark cherry-hued small-batch aperitivo is crafted with 16 botanicals. “Producing in smaller quantities gives us the opportunity to elevate its quality,” says founder and distiller Francesco Amodeo. Honeydew and prickly pear add sweetness that tempers the harmonious bitterness of grapefruit and chicory.

    How to drink it: In a Sorrentino with limoncello, Cocchi Americano and orange bitters, or a Still Salty About Last Night, with grapefruit and lime juices, simple syrup and Maldon salt water.