I never dreamed my life could get so busy or hectic that I wouldn't have time to go out every once in a while and have a cocktail somewhere. I don't mean a beer, and I don't mean a glass of wine. I mean a dewy, crisp cocktail delivered in a tall glass or inverted pyramid, otherwise known as the martini glass. Usually, I go for something that is citrusy and clean; vodka or gin works. In the summer, it's Mount Gay Rum and tonic with key lime. The key lime takes it OVER the top.
I am a fan of the nerdy drinks. I adore pastis. Set me up with a tall glass, a couple cubes, a shot of the ole Green Fairy and a little pitcher of water, and my world gets just slightly fuzzy and warm like viewing a Seurat up close. I am gonzo over grappa, armagnac, eau de vie, calvados and cognac. Single malts? Yup. Oban. Ooooh ban. Mmmmm. But, my heart belongs to the bitter lady we know as Campari.
The Italian appertivo has been around since the 1860's. It's alcohol content ranges in the mid 20's, but varies depending on what country you drink it in. Campari is a type of bitters. Bitters are typically made from aromatic plants, bitter herbs and fruit. Water and alcohol are added and they are distilled to create their unique, fruity but bitter flavor. Cynar is a type of bitters made from this process using artichokes. Amaro (which literally means bitter) is one of the most common digestivos in the world. Campari's firey red color used to be derived from adding the dye (carmine) from crushed insects as late as 2006. It's intensity holds when added to seltzer or other mixers, making it an eye-catcher when it arrives to your table. No wonder Salma Hayek is the poster girl for Campari. Sassy x 10.
When all is right with the world, I'm about to sit down with my wife before an extravagant dinner and two frosty negronis arrive. The negroni is one of the more popular cocktails made with Campari, using 1/3 gin (I use Hendricks), 1/3 Sweet Vermouth (Punt e mes is a more flavorful variety than Cinzano) and 1/3 Campari. The perfect negroni is measured out, with no liberties taken. A pulpy piece of orange is the garnish. This drink is served either on the rocks or up. For me, rocks if it's a hot day and I'm dining al fresco. Otherwise, it's up. I realize there are other versions out there; but this is the purist recipe I enjoy most. The Americano is Campari, Sweet Vermouth and soda. Served in a tall glass, it was popular among the 1950s jet-setters and guys in shiny, skinny suits. In fact, James Bond orders one in the first novel of Ian Flemming's, Casino Royale. Campari and soda is just that. Garnished sometimes with lime, it's the one cocktail bartenders f-up the most. They don't understand that because it's a bitters, it's not the standard 1/3 pour to 2/3 mixer. What you usually get is a watered down, shirley temple looking drink. Send it back. Fill a glass half-way with ice, pour 2/3 Campari and spritz it with soda.
A nice intermezzo for dinner can be made by mixing some campari with orange juice, a little sugar and water and freezing it. Scrape the ice, or granita, into a small sherry glass and serve with a twist of lemon.