Skep's Place


Campari, Skep's Non-Staple Staple

Every decent bar has a couple items that remain fairly constant, no matter the size. A standard stock of liquors—gin, whiskey, rum, and so on—along with mixers like Angostura bitters and simple syrup. I may have even covered some of these items in another section by the time you're reading this.

But there is one bottle that has been a staple of my own lineup for years, and that is an Italian liqueur called Campari.

a bottle of Campari


Any bar worth its salt should have Campari available, but I'd bet most people have never heard of it. Still, from my own experience, I've never had an issue locating it in the Cordials section of my local state stores.

Campari has a very distinct floral flavor to it, managing to somehow be both sweet and quite bitter. It's probably not to everybody's tastes—especially if you just like sweet, full stop—and, while you can drink it straight, it shines when combined in a cocktail, where the bitterness can be diluted a bit. Given the strength of its flavor, though, it will always take center stage in whatever it's added to.

The most well-known Campari cocktail is likely the Negroni. This is a crisp, flowery drink that is excellent in the spring and summer (of course, it's made with gin, and I'd say that about nearly any gin drink). But the Negroni's best feature is it's dirt-easy to slap together:


Done. This drink is ready in sixty seconds. So stupidly easy, and is probably 80% of the reason why Campari is part of my standard stock. I've also seen a variation on this if you want it stronger; start with 2-3 shakes of Angostura bitters (to keep the bitterness), and double the gin.

a Negroni cocktail


If you want a weaker drink (for some reason), consider the Negroni's cousin, the Americano. Ditch the gin, add another half-ounce or so of the Campari and vermouth, then top with soda water.

The Campari doesn't get benched in the colder months, however. Not in my house, at least. It stars in a pair of whiskey drinks; of these, I greatly prefer the Old Pal, which is the only cocktail I've had that tells me a story as I drink it.

Old Pal

The first time I tried this one, I thought it was nasty. By the end of the glass, though, I fell in love. This has to be the most perfectly-named drink I've ever known; you start out at odds with somebody new, but by the end of your time together, you are firm, comfortable friends who understand one another entirely. This is the drink I'm going to retire with; we'll spend our days sitting on the porch making hurtful comments at each other's expense. To the casual observer, it may seem like we hate each other's guts, but deep down, we know we'll be utterly devastated inside when it's finally time to part ways for good.

Alternately, you swap out the rye for bourbon and the dry vermouth for sweet, and change nothing else, you've made a Boulevardier. Somehow, these drinks are the exception to my rye-straight-bourbon-mixed preference when it comes to whiskey; I much prefer the rye drink to the bourbon drink in this case. If you're not a bitter asshole like me, though, the Boulevardier might be more to your taste. Experimentation is half the fun, after all!