When James Bond ordered an Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda water) in Casino Royale, Campari had an official place in literary history. But what if the bartender had been out of the ingredients for this classic cocktail? What Campari substitute could he have served the famous spy?
The Americano and the Negroni are two refreshing cocktails based on the pleasantly bitter Italian aperitif. Campari's flavor is hard to describe and it seems to be in the "love it or hate it" category of spirits. There's the bitter bite of rhubarb and orange, red berries, a strong herbaceous nose, and very floral flowers. That's why gin, with a similar flavor profile, is the best for mixing in Campari cocktails.
The most common substitute for Campari is Aperol, another Italian aperitif. And while they're sort of interchangeable, they're also pretty different. Campari was invented in Milan in 1860. Aperol came about much later in 1919 in the town of Padua.
Aperol is bright orange and easy to spot on a shelf usually right next to the bright red glow of Campari. Aperol is slightly sweet while Campari is heavier on the bitter orange.
That bright red color comes from carmine dye which actually comes from bugs. Yes! Crushed cochineal insects gave Campari its color up until 2006 when carmine stopped being used. So, fortunately, Campari is vegan-friendly.
Aperol comes in at only 11% ABV, while Campari packs more punch at 23% ABV. And interestingly, the alcohol content of both vary depending on which country they're being exported to. The Aperol Spritz (Aperol, prosecco, and a "spritz" of club soda) is the unofficial afternoon drink of Italy with its lower alcohol content. Negroni and Americanos are saved for the evening when passing out is universally more acceptable.
There are other bitter liqueurs aside from Aperol that can be used as a Campari substitute. Hopefully, James Bond's bartender is up to date on these alternatives. Because if anybody needs a drink these days, it's an international spy.
Tattersall Bitter Orange
This Minneapolis distillery started producing this bitter liqueur made from three types of oranges and a secret blend of spices in 2015. This relatively new kid on the block does an impressive Americano interpretation. Check out all their creative spirits at this very cool distillery.
Leopold Bros. Aperitivo
Another newcomer to bitter orange deliciousness, this recipe includes gentian root, grapefruit peels, hyssop, and coriander. Cane sugar for sweetness and traditional South American cochineal insects for color give this a shout out to traditional Campari.
Contratto Bitter Liqueur
Made from 24 herbs, spices, roots, and seeds, the complexity of this drink keeps you sipping. There's aloe, bitter and sweet orange peels, cardamom, cloves, gentian root, ginger, hibiscus, mint, rhubarb, sage, and even wormwood. All this flavor is infused into Italian brandy. There are no insects in this Campari substitute. This time the color comes from carrot and beet extracts.
The tall skinny bottle of Galliano is hard to miss behind the bar. Bright red with an infusion of
oranges, bergamot, bitter oranges, chinotto, tangerines, and grapefruit, this liquor is practically begging to be mixed and adorned with a garnish. Add in a beautiful mix of botanicals including anise, juniper, cardamom, sandalwood, sage, lavender, peppermint, cinnamon, and vanilla. Galliano not only works as a Campari substitute, but it's good to have on hand for creative cocktail recipes including coffee drinks!
Luxardo Bitter Rosso
Mixology geeks know about Luxardo's Maraschino liqueur and brandied cherries in a jar. But their Bitter Rosso is just as good. Herbs, spices, and citrus fruits including mint, marjoram, thyme, and bitter orange. They also leave out the bugs to make it vegan friendly.
Don Ciccio & Figli Ambrosia
This very Italian named bittersweet liqueur is actually made in Washington D.C. Turmeric, carrots, Florida blood oranges, and Virginia cantaloupe are combined with Italian botanicals. This family recipe combines their Italian heritage with their DC surroundings.
Gran Classico Bitter Liqueur
Gran Classico Bitter Liqueur follows the original 1860's Italian recipe. Today, the Tempus Fugit brand distills this product in Switzerland using 25 herbs and roots including wormwood, gentian, rhubarb, hyssop, and bitter orange peel. The color occurs naturally from the maceration process.
Whether you're trying Gaspare Campari or regular Campari, sometimes even the best drinks need something a little different. Whether you're an international spy in New York, or on vacation sipping a martini, everyone has a favorite drink. What's yours?