Here’s a bit of cocktailian heresy: I don’t care for Campari. It’s got one move: bitter. Not much depth. To me, its bitterness upsets the balance of cocktails. It loudly yells, “HEY! THERE’S CAMPARI ALL UP IN HERE!”
Aperol, on the other hand, is excellent. Often referred to as “Campari with training wheels” or “Campari for beginners,” Aperol is sweeter, less bitter, about half the proof and to my palate, more nuanced.
Naturally, I’ve gone about making cocktails that are traditionally made with Campari and substituting Aperol. Since Campari cocktails are definitely bitter, I find that substituting Aperol requires the addition of other bittering agents. This suits me just fine, as you’ll see below.
The most popular Campari cocktail would have to be the Negroni, equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. The only Negroni I’ve truly enjoyed? Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Barrel Aged Negroni at Clyde Common. The wood does something wonderful that smooths out some of the bitterness.
1.5oz gin (Beefeater)
.75oz Punt e Mes
Stir with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel, flamed if you like.
The Punt e Mes compensates for the bitterness lost through the switch from Campari to Aperol.
Update: I previously had equal parts of all three ingredients in the above drink. I visited Nostrana on March 6, 2011 and had their “Negroni of the Month” which happens to be the above recipe. It was perfect. Thank you to the bartender (whose name I do not know) for providing the recipe.
Then again, 90% of the time I’d rather have a rye cocktail than one made with gin. Hence, the Old Pal. The Old Pal is the rye-based cousin of the Negroni, using dry vermouth instead of sweet. Sweet vermouth works better in the Negroni, as gin is generally a drier spirit than whiskey. Conversely, dry vermouth works as a drying agent in the Old Pal. Since we’re using Aperol, something both dry and bitter works even better.
1oz Bonal Gentiane-Quina
Stir with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
[I have to admit, I struggled over what to name this one. Since I decided to substitute Bonal Gentiane-Quina (of the currently popular quinquina family of apertif) I thought about also cramming that into the drink name. It was quite nearly the 'Ol 'Nal.]
Coincidentally, Aperol figures into a David Wondrich feature in the November 2010 issue of Esquire, on newsstands at the time of this post. Fun Fact: David Wondrich is 75% of the reason I still subscribe to Esquire.