Campari Bitter, Sesto San Giovani, Milan (Lombardy)
1980’s, 700ml, 25% ABV
The most recognized version of Bitters di Torino Gaspare Campari’s (1828-1882) bitter spans a 156 year history making it one of the longest continually produced bitters in the world. While by no means the first person to make the style, others out of Torino such as Canetta and Graubardt pre-dated him, he was the first to codify and market it beyond small home and pharmacy production.
Inspired by the 8th century beverage alkermez (still produced today but normally destined for pastry applications, such as zuppa inglese, due to its sweetness and intense floral notes.) Gaspare crafted a much drier and bitter style which he first began to sell under the name Bitter all’Uso d’Holanda in 1840.
Like alkermez Campari’s bitter took advantage of cochineal, or kermes, a small parasitic insect from which the drink derives its color. He was far more restrained in the use of vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg instead focusing on myrtle-leaved orange (citrus myrtifolia) and the bittering agent cascarilla (croton eluteria). Altogether the bitter contained more than 60 some herbs, roots and spices.
By 1860 he had changed the name of his bitters to Campari, relocated to Milan and eventually opened his iconic cafe in the newly constructed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade in 1865. The drink was rumored to have grown in popularity so fast that it was necessary for him to cellar carbonated water underneath the cafe as a more economical way to craft Campari and soda, the preferred method of consumption.
Gaspare passed away in 1882 leaving his sons Davide and Guido to take over the cafe and the production of Campari. With this second generation came the first construction of offsite production, in 1904, allowing them to produce on a scale allowing export to the rest of Europe.
The next 100 plus years were ones of exponential growth and success. Davide debuted new brands including Campari Cordial and a bottled Campari and soda in 1932. Along with these innovations Campari launched one of the most impressive post-war advertising campaigns ever devised featuring some of Italy’s favorite film stars including David Niven, Humphrey Bogart and Nino Manfredi. By the 1980’s the now Groupo Campari was a family powerhouse and began to branch into ownership of additional spirits labels. Today that includes Appelton Rum, Wild Turkey Whiskey, Skyy Vodka to name a few.
The 2000’s marked the beginning of change for this legendary bitter and in many ways it was victimized by its own success. In an effort to increase volume of production and lower their cost of goods production of Campari was moved to the massive, new, 200,000 square meter facility in the southern Piedmonte town Novi Liqure. Able to produce over 160 million bottles a year, employing nearly 130 people Groupo Campari had spent some 51.7 million euro on the property.
Eager to jump-start their returns additional changes were made cumulating in 2007 with the removal of cochineal in favor of artificial coloring, the lowering of the ABV to 24% and the use of liquid extracts as opposed to the solids that the flavor was originally based around. Bottles that were produced at the original plant in Sesto San Giovanni and in accordance with Gaspare’s original recipe are something truly special. Broader and deeper in flavor, at its original ABV and with out the one dimensional bitters that some connoisseurs associate with the current product.