Campari: A Bitter Darling

Pete Capella
(Photo: )

We have all heard of the Italian bitter flavored aperitif, Campari. It is, after all, a 150-year-old brand. But why is it all that we hear about lately? Why has this brand that lived in virtual obscurity for years, though popular overseas, become one of the darlings of the modern cocktail scene? The Savory looked to Campari America Brand Ambassador, Dave Karakker, to talk about all things cocktail and find out more about the sudden explosion of Campari on the spirits scene.

In the past five to 10 years, cocktail culture has rebounded, harkening to a pre-Prohibition appreciation for cocktailia. Before recently, especially the 1960s through the 1990s, America focused on sweeter flavored drinks. We saw the rise of the Kamikaze, the Cosmopolitan and (it pains us to even type this) the Buttery Nipple. During that time, the thought of selling a bitter tasting spirit to Americans would be insane.

Thank goodness times have changed, and as Karakker sees it, “There has been a maturing of the American palate.” He went on to say, “Back in the day, kale was something you fed a rabbit. You went to the grocery store and there was one type of green to buy – iceberg lettuce.” So why the sudden change? Dave has a theory. “Foodie resources have influenced our society as a whole. The Food Network, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Farmer’s Markets – they are opening the eyes of the American consumer.” Bitter foods have become prominent on the menus of most restaurants, from cutting edge culinary to major chains. Karraker says, “Bartenders have become craftsmen following in the footsteps of chefs.”

Ask any good drinker and they will tell you about their love for the Negroni. For the laypersons reading this, and I am sure that there are none, a Negroni is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. The drink, in all its perfect tasting, balanced glory, has become a staple of the cocktail culture. This bodes well for Campari, as you can use any gin or any sweet vermouth in the drink, but Campari is a must. With bartenders constantly trying to come up with the next great thing, it has led to different spins on the Negroni, including Rum Negronis, Mezcal Negronis, and even Prosecco Negronis (a Sbagliato). This has pretty much solidified Campari as a necessity behind any bar.

So where does Dave Karraker, a guy who has seen the rise of cocktails from its recent beginnings, see the future of the culture heading? “A low alcohol content movement is on the rise. People want to go out and enjoy cocktails throughout the entire evening. Take a look at the white wine category.” He continues, “It was easy to see this trend happening in major cities, but now the craft cocktails are bleeding into Middle America. Smaller markets are embracing the idea of classic drinking.” We certainly hope he is right. So, let’s raise our glasses of Campari and soda with a lemon twist and toast in the hopes that bitter is not a trend, but the continued future of food and drink.

Check out our editorial piece on the bitter food trend HERE.
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