What Is Campari?

“In London with a beautiful, hungry girl one must show her to Mario at The Terrazza. We sat in the ground floor front under the plastic grapes and Mario brought us Campari-sodas and told Jean how much he hated me. To do this he practically had to gnaw her ear off. Jean liked it.”

-Len Deighton, The Ipcress File

Campari is an Italian amaro… it was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari (a bar tender turned café proprietor) and the recipe remains a secret (to which only the factory director is privy), but it includes oranges, rhubarb and ginseng. There is also a rumour that Campari contains chinotto.

The herbal ingredients are so confidential that they are apparently sent directly to the director’s office in anonymous brown paper packages.

So what is an amaro? ‘Amaro’ is the Italian word for ‘bitter’, and an amaro is a herbal liqueur with a bitter sweet flavour, usually drunk after dinner, either neat or with ice or tonic.

Campari, however is often drunk before dinner, most famously with soda (equal parts of each), but also with orange, or lemonade or in a whole range of cocktails, of which the best is (in the Saucy Dressing’s opinion) the Negroni.

The alcohol level of Campari is reduced from 28.5% to 24% proof for the US market.

And it is increasingly used very creatively in cooking, see blood orange sorbet.


If you really want to become an expert on Campari a delightful way to do it would be to treat yourself and your coffee table to a copy of Nargess Banks’ La Vita Campari (written in English).

This newly-published book covers every aspect of this drink – the history, the design, and most interestingly the different cocktails which incorporate Campari and how they have evolved.
If you’re quick (it’s on from 16-24 September, 2017) you can see the book exhibited at Campari Creates at the London Design Festival.

Also on until 16 September 2018 is a new exhibition celebrating the artistry of Campari at the Estorick Collection in London.



Things aren’t always what they seem in Campari ads…



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