Here at Read Wall our spring trousers just came in, the doors are wide open, and a warm breeze is lapping at our ankles, putting us in a springtime disposition, if only for a week until it gets chilly again. Just as we get excited to uncork the rye whiskey come the crisp evenings of autumn, we are champing at the bit for rum and gin season (as if gin ever goes out of season). Yet there is a liquor I associate even more strongly with springtime, and that is Campari.
Brazen and romantic on the shelf and in the glass, Campari is a bit of an acquired taste, yet it enjoys a hallowed place in the hearts (and bar carts) of many a seasoned traveler and cocktail drinker. It is bright red, heartily — sometimes glaringly — bitter, wholesomely herbaceous, and rather sweet once you get past its initial assault on your senses. It is, maybe unsurprisingly, Italian.
I do not generally drink Campari by itself, preferring to spread it out across some ice and other ingredients. If you choose to try some neat (you should always test your ingredients), you will find the experience akin to biting into an unpeeled orange and then make a face like you just got sucker-punched by the Kool-Aid guy. That bright red color is deceiving — Oh Yeah! You will also notice, however, that there is a lot of great flavor to work with here, and those waves of citrus, herbs, sweetness, and bitterness are really intriguing, intense though they may be. I always find that I want another sip after 30 seconds or so.
I am going to spend at least a couple weeks on Campari drinks, not only because it plays brilliantly in a slew of fantastic, warm-weather drinks but also because, if I’m going to recommend a bottle of something more exotic, the least I can do is give you a few uses for it. For the time being anyway, this column will try to stay conscious of your shelf space and make the most of each new ingredient we cover.
For now, let’s make a Negroni. It is the drink most identified with Campari, it’s awesome, and it uses two other ingredients we can make quick use of: gin and Italian vermouth. A punchy gin does best (whatever you use in your martinis should do it), and buying the red version of whatever green-bottle vermouth you are using should do fine as well, though I am terribly partial to Cocchi’s Vermouth di Torino. Equal parts gin, red vermouth, and Campari in an empty lowball glass; add ice to fill it; give it a quick stir and an orange (or other citrus) twist. Enjoy slowly — there is a lot to be had between sips as this drink, like a long sunset, seemingly never stops drawing out its shifting colors on your palate. Springtime. Drink well.