Cocktails

The End of the Campari Year

Back in 2011, I bought a bottle of Campari only to discover (with my eldest brother) how little I fancied it.  Its bitterness was a slap with truly impressive follow-through: lingering far longer than expected or desired, like unwelcome houseguests.

Paul and I pondered the bottle, 750 mL like most any other spirt, and wondered how long it would last when we didn’t dare use more than half an ounce at a time – barring the time I made a bowl of punch and added a whopping 4 ounces for color and piquancy.  We don’t often go in for aperitifs, and only rarely for digestifs.

Gin is like Mercury and Campari like Pluto, Paul remarked.  A bottle of gin could last as long as a few months, or go down the hatch in a particularly lively night, as swift to disappear as Mercury hastens about the sun.  Campari, consumed so much more slowly, has a lifespan of many gin-years.

How many, exactly?

Well.  I couldn’t rightly say.  A Campari year is at least 50, if not 72, gin years, but that’s only an estimate.  All I know for sure is that, nearly six years later, we finished the last bit of Campari last night with this funny little pink thing:

IMG_2191
2 oz gin (Aviation)
2 oz grapefruit juice
½ oz Campari
1 oz rhubarb syrup

Not sure what to call it, but I must say there’s something remarkably cohesive about those flavors and colors: bitter, but bright.  Just the thing for when the weather’s getting as warm as it has.

The (solar) years, meanwhile, have mellowed me a bit where Campari is concerned.  I’m now convinced that it’s a bit like olives: an acquired taste, best tried for the first time somewhere in Italy before dashing back Negronis every which way.

How long is your Campari year?

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Cocktails

The Union Club

Buckle in, folks, there be peculiar similes ahead.

I did some whinging about how Campari is just so bitter and I don’t know how to deal with that, whereupon Mr. Joseph Tkach suggested a Union Club.  Wanting to work my way through the Campari at a reasonable pace (and use up a nearly-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark), I figured now was the time.  So here we go:

The Union Club

2 oz bourbon
½ oz maraschino liqueur
½ oz Campari
1 ½ oz fresh orange juice

I could get as far as imagining the bourbon playing well with the orange juice, and the maraschino hanging about with the Campari.  But so far as I could see, they were on opposite sides of the playground – the bourbon and OJ playing rugby or football or something while the Campari wrote curiously obscure poetry and the maraschino tried not to look so tall.

Altogether, the maraschino was easiest to smell and the first thing I tasted.  Then came the slight punchiness of the bourbon, with whispers of orange accompanying it, before the swooping bitterness of the Campari – although I must grant you that it was the least unpleasant Campari’s been in my experience.  One could say that I was so focused on not focusing on the Campari that I hardly noticed anything else.  By the time I’d reached the bottom of the drink, the flavor of the bourbon had somehow – magically, even alchemically – melded with the Campari’s bitterness, which ameliorated it slightly.

Overall, it was miles ahead of the Campari Collins and about half a block ahead of the Carolingian Effort.  It doesn’t quite make me leap up, saying “Ahhh yes, that is what I need to drink right now!”

But it also does away with the idea that Campari should be a penalty foisted on those who lose bets.  I shall chalk it up as a success.

literary, Uniquity

Carolingian Effort

…so there I was, with a bottle of Campari and no idea what to do with it other than “avoid drinking two ounces in the same day, much less the same drink, ever again.”

Therefore, using the time-honored culinary tradition of throwing an odd flavor in with That Which Is In the Fridge and Cupboard, I made up a drink:


1 ½ oz gin (Tanqueray or Plymouth in my house)
¾ oz ginger syrup
1 tsp Campari
Dash Angostura bitters

You will notice that there was no citrus in the fridge, which is sort of unfortunate.  However, we had a bunch of ginger going unused.  Instead of waiting for it to collapse into a distressing dry lump, I grated it up, boiled it with equal amounts water and sugar, then cooled, strained, and bottled it.

[Cats: bringing verisimilitude to the home bar and delight to the internet since 1998.]

It hit the tongue sweetly, but the grapefruit-like nuances of the Campari unfold as it is swallowed (in the passive voice), and then there’s a bit of a warm ginger finish (unless you let the ginger syrup age, in which case there is a spicy finish; it seems to grow sharper somehow).  It’s something like a digestif cocktail…which is a bit fun, but what to call it?  La Roommate (hereinafter LR) suggested calling it a Muchness or perhaps a Bandersnatch, but I replied that I would save such Carroll-ish things – such Carolingian efforts – for something involving absinthe at the very least, and perhaps less savory possibilities.

…and then that stuck, so there you go.  Since one of the ingredients of “The Jabberwock” is defunct, this is clearly the best backup for drinking whilst reading Through the Looking Glass.

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Campari Caper

To begin mixing drinks is to begin a journey; it is like any other skill, patiently learned and gradually honed, in that way.  Whether your senses wake in the presence of one particular smell or flavor, or whether they must needs be saturated by layers of distinct yet elusive flavors – either way, your feet are wet, your mind is engaged, your eyes and ears strain to see and hear what was that? and where can I get it? and how do I make it?

These are the first pebbles of the avalanche.  Had I not the example of others who understood the inevitability of ignorance in a hugely complex world, I might despair.  There is so much to learn, and perhaps so much that must be learned, before taking further steps.  There are so many spirits and heaven knows how many liqueurs, not to mention non-alcoholic juices and mixers, bitters and ices and other potables that evade characterization.

So as a beginner, I was pleased to find this list of so-called “Three Ingredient Drinks.”  How streamlined!  How simple!

…how disappointing to find that no, fruit and simple syrup and such things weren’t included in the count, and there wasn’t a single drink for which I had every ingredient.  I looked over every recipe and tried to obtain the ingredients for some of them, including the Campari Collins.  I’d have seltzer, lemon, and simple syrup anyway; I’d seen Campari mentioned here and there; I’d be delighted by this summery creation.  Right?

Perhaps I should mention that the proportions for the drink were 4 oz chilled seltzer, 2 oz Campari, ¾ oz fresh lemon juice, and ¾ oz simple syrup.

Perhaps I should also mention that using two ounces of Campari is something like using two ounces of bitters.  True, the Campari is less concentrated and has a deceitfully translucent color – but the Campari Collins was what you call a learning experience.  My friend the Mead and I poured in more and more simple syrup, more seltzer, muddled strawberries, attempting to assuage the bitterness.  Two ounces were just too much.  In the end, we spent the rest of our languid morning sipping a sort of strawberry lemonade affair, followed by a Thoroughbred:

2 oz bourbon
1 oz orange juice
1 oz brown sugar simple syrup
2 dashes bitters
Combine, shake, strain, and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

The Mead described it as “a julep with orange rather than mint.”  And unlike the Campari, we thoroughly enjoyed it.