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Campari: It can be a love/hate kind of thing!

Campari: It can be a love/hate kind of thing!

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No one will ever be able to accuse Campari of being shy. From its spectacular red color and gorgeous texture, to its orange rind aroma and bittersweet orange, almost grapefruit, taste, it is definitely a spirit that loves to steal the show. Although its assertiveness is the very thing that makes it so spectacular, it can be a real challenge for many people’s palates. It is an apertivo, just like Aperol, so consuming it before food will help prepare the body for digestion and make the process easier. Campari can be enjoyed either straight up or on the rocks, but it’s also front and center in a good number of cocktails, of which the Negroni is probably the most well known. Mixed with equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth, this classically elegant cocktail is arguably one of the best before dinner drinks you can order. All in the interest of good digestion, of course!

The history of Campari goes back to the early 1860s in Milan, Italy where a former bartender named Gaspare Campari was experimenting with spirits in the basement of his new cafe. He came up with a recipe that combined oranges, rhubarb, and a top secret mixture of herbs that has not changed over the years, nor has the secrecy surrounding it. Although Campari may remain unapproachable for some people, it can become an acquired taste for others. One of the best places to get started is with the Americano, a cocktail composed of Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda. The sweet vermouth balances out the bitterness of the Campari and the club soda keeps things on the lighter side. Much like Aperol, Campari has a natural affinity towards gin, but it can also be used in cocktails made with darker spirits too. One of the best known examples of such a drink is the Boulevardier, which keeps the equal proportions of a Negroni, but replaces the gin with bourbon. I know, I know. I can hear the anti-dark-spirits, anti-bitter crowd absolutely cringing  out there!

The particular drink I chose for today is called the Lucien Gaudin, a fairly obscure 1928 cocktail named for a famous Olympian fencer. It intrigued me because it’s like a Negroni, but it calls for dry vermouth instead of sweet, and it adds in Cointreau, a delicately sweet orange liqueur. The gin provides a good, strong backbone, and the Campari brings its signature bitterness, but the dry vermouth and Cointreau really elevate this drink a notch above just another Negroni wannabe. The Cointreau contributes a brighter orange flavor, its sweetness contrasting perfectly with the Campari (and toning it down some), and the vermouth brings the same kind of richness that you find in a martini.

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Lucien Gaudin (from Death & Co., NYC)

1½ oz Bluecoat Gin
½ oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
½ oz Campari
½ oz Cointreau
1 lemon twist for garnishing

Add all the ingredients (except the lemon twist) to a mixing glass. Fill ⅔ full with ice. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon 30-45 seconds or until very cold. Strain into a cocktail glass using a Julep strainer. Garnish with the lemon twist. Enjoy!

Stop back tomorrow and we’ll talk about Cynar, the third apertivo that always tops the list of most mispronounced spirits!

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The Negroni: Elegance in a glass.

The Negroni: Elegance in a glass.

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I simply would not want to live in a world without Campari in it. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but to me there is nothing that embodies elegance in a glass quite the way a Negroni does. But I’m a person who loves bitterness in cocktails and Campari’s biting orange flavor definitely fits into that category. Technically speaking, Campari is considered to be an apertivo, or a substance that you drink before a meal to prepare your digestive system for what’s coming. It is also one of the Italian Amari, a group of versatile herbal liqueurs that are currently among the rising stars of the cocktail world. The origin of the Negroni itself dates back to to 1919 when a Count Camillo Negroni was rumoured to be drinking Americanos in a bar in Florence. Americanos are made with sweet vermouth, Campari, and club soda. Desiring a stronger drink, he asked the bartender to replace the club with gin and so the Negroni was born. A happy day for me! The recipe below calls for equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. This is traditional and it’s the one that I use, but many bartenders bump the gin up to 1.5 ounces. Try it both ways (side by side if you can) and see which you prefer. You’ll want a less botanical gin here so go with something like Bluecoat (my favorite and distilled here in Philadelphia), Tanqueray or Beefeater. As far as sweet vermouth goes, I prefer Carpano Antica Formula and Dolin Rouge, but again try each one and you decide. And finally, the Negroni is a drink that is best served very cold. It tends to fall apart as it warms up and so I love it over ice, preferably one large cube.

1 oz Bluecoat gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz Carpano Antica or Dolin Rouge
1 orange peel for garnishing

Place all the ingredients except the orange peel in your mixing glass (or shaker tin). Add ice (medium cubes) until the glass (or tin) is 2/3 full. Remember that too much ice will make it hard to stir and too little will not chill the drink enough. Stir with a long handled bar spoon for 15-20 seconds or until very cold. Strain using a Julep strainer and pour into an Old-Fashioned or bucket glass with one large ice cube in it. Express the oils from the orange peel across the top of the drink by squeezing the peel with the skin side out and the white pith side towards you. Drop the peel in the drink. This is a beautiful cocktail! Take a moment to admire it and then get ready for a taste like nothing else!

Check back with me tomorrow for the Thursday Barlogue when I’ll be covering Charlie was a sinner in Philadelphia!

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