Good spirits

Top Shelf Spotlight: Campari

A bitter Italian aperitif that tastes of the good life.

January 29, 2010

This is a picture of Jessica Alba that was taken for a Campari calendar. In the grand tradition of alcohol advertisements, it depicts a glamorous unachievable life in which you are meant to imagine yourself as either: A. Alba, being adored by what I can only describe, with apologies, as some Italian stallions, or you are B. her suitor, observing this scene somewhere outside the frame and preparing to ward off the equine hunks with your brute strength, then join her on the divan for a refreshing Campari and soda followed by some other sexy activity. Or maybe you’re C. one of the stallions. I dunno. We’re on the Italian Riviera or something. Nobody’s judging.

But here is the principal difference between this ad and an equally sexy ad for say…Absolut vodka. Campari, an Italian aperitif whose recipe was developed in the late 19th century, actually makes you feel as happy as Alba and her stallions. Holy hell, is it delicious. Classified as a bitters, it has powerhouse herbal notes that I like best when sweetened up with soda and garnished with a slice of orange, or in a Negroni: a cocktail of gin, vermouth, and Campari.

Of course, some people hate Campari. I don’t know what else to say about that, but it’s a true thing so I’m acknowledging it. Also, there are vegetarians who refuse to drink Campari and here is why: When Campari was first developed, its crimson color was derived from the wings of Cochineal insects. This was listed, among the ingredients, as “carmine.” But carmine can also be classified as an artificial coloring. Today, Campari lists “artificial coloring” and not “carmine” among the ingredients, however because the recipe is such a closely guarded secret, it’s unclear whether insect wings are still an ingredient.

And some people might be grossed out by that. For the rest of yahs, I suggest you get over to the bar at Canlis. Bartender James MacWilliams is a Campari lover of the first order and will make you a kickass Negroni with gin and vermouth, or some other crazy Campari-showcasing cocktail. Like an Old Fashioned, a Negroni is a good drink for testing the mettle of an unknown bar or bartender, so it is also a good option if you’re ordering for the first time at Still Liquor, the new cocktail bar on Capitol Hill.

Cheers and happy weekend.

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