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bolognium

New Formula Campari

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If you think that an Italian amaro maker would cavalierly change the 140 year old formula of its product, it suggests that you're not sufficiently familiar with Italian culture. 

No one is suggesting that Gruppo Campari did anything cavalier. I'm wondering out loud about how we should understand these differences, and they're not all in my mouth.

We'll have to disagree as to whether carmine should count as part of "the original formula," but the honor of amaro makers is insufficient cause to ask whether the Platonic essence of the beverage is above reproach. For example, there are clearly different proofs shipped out to different markets. As William Sertl wrote in Saveur,

Before bottling, the alcohol level in various batches of Campari is adjusted according to the bitter's final destination—28.5 percent (57 proof) for Eastern Europe, for instance, and 24 percent (48 proof) for the American market. Bottles destined for the U.S. are also labeled "Aperitivo" instead of "Bitter"—since the latter designation would presumably be only slightly more appealing to Americans than, say, "Poison."

Surely we can agree that the proof has an effect on the taste of Campari, and thus that it's not so outlandish to suggest that its makers are not above tinkering with what's in the bottle depending on the destination market. A cynic might go so far as to point out that this wouldn't be the first multinational corporation to spin well-worn tales about "the original recipe" as a keen marketing gimmick to use when tweaking the production of a hallowed beverage; just ask "Classic Coke" fans who are still pissed off about the replacement of sugar with high fructose corn syrup in the same year that New Coke got deep-sixed in favor of the "original recipe."

In the end, that's not really too important to me, having neither a carmine allergy nor a constitutional opposition to red dye nor a need to prove I'm down with or critical of "Italian culture." I just think that the new stuff clearly pales in comparison to the old, and I'm hoping to find out if others agree. Age, sun, heat, and so on may all be factors, no doubt. I've been having a blast digging around in the backs of area liquor stores to find ancient bottles of Amer Picon, Chartreuse, and so on, and their taste is indeed very different from the newer bottles in my cabinet. However, unless there are significant changes to the formula (Amer Picon, e.g.), those changes are subtle; only in this case does different mean quite a bit worse.

Whatever the reason, it's a significant enough difference in my mouth to warrant purchasing the old Campari. Perhaps some other folks can buy some of the new Campari, age it for a few years, and report on the pronounced qualities the bitter flavor in relation to the citrus?

edited to clarify the point about Amer Picon -- ca


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

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I tried a slightly more scientific experiment today on two volunteers.

First, a chef and Campari loving friend of mine visiting from out of town. I didn't tell him anything about the formula change, or even that I was giving him Campari, just that my palate is messed up because of this cold, and I needed him to taste test something for me (he's used to my mixology experiments). In each glass 1/2 oz Campari, with 1/4 oz water.

He tasted the old school first (said, "Hmmm...tastes like Campari"), then the bug free version. Asked if he thought there was any difference, he said he thought the first definitely had a longer finish.

Then, on my Mom, also a Campari lover. She tried the bug free first, then the original, and had much the same reaction - that the newer version comes at you all at once, while the older version builds in layers. I mentioned Chris' analogy, "slowly enveloping, steamy warmth compared to a bucket of hot water over the head", and they thought that summed it up quite well.

So, the results of today's experiment? I just made a grown man cry, and my mother very, very sad.


Edited by jmfangio (log)

"Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other." - W. Somerset Maugham

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Apparently I don't even know what I'm missing. I checked the shelf, and I've been happily drinking the bug free version for months. Maybe I just have no taste.

Any idea why the change was made? Was this really pressure from vegetarians or a cost issue?

Honestly, I'd prefer to be drinking bug juice.

I checked my bottle, too. Says it uses artificial color. This is only the second bottle I have ever purcahses. I didn't even start to drink Camparai until last summer (first had it in a Negroni in Las Vegas back over July 4th weekend).

I am thinking that the only type I have ever had was this version.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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After reading this thread, I've checked out 5 or 6 different grocery & liquor stores in my neighborhood (Santa Clara, CA), but all of the Campari was the new formula. Does anyone know when the new formula Campari would have hit the shelves?

Thanks,

Margy

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The new formula is certainly well-entrenched here in NorCal, but the old stuff does still exist in small pockets. I picked up a 750ml bottle of the natural carmine formula today at a little strip-mall liquor store on El Camino in Palo Alto (only one they had), but all the big stores like BevMo, Beltramos, K&L, etc. stock the new formula exclusively and that's probably been true for months now. One place you might check is in the 50ml "mini" collections of larger stores. I went to two BevMos yesterday and the 50ml mini bottles -- dozens of them -- were all old formula. At ~$2.50 a pop that's an expensive way to fill a 750ml bottle, but it's an option for the truly desperate fanatic.

I now have three 750ml bottles of the original formula, and honestly that's probably a life-time supply for me. Beyond an occasional Negroni and an even more occasional Americano, I don't tend to drink Campari that often.

Cheers,

Mike


Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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And Mr. Kinsey, I'd sure like to know what stores in NYC still have bottles of Tanqueray Malacca for sale. I love that stuff!

Cheers,

Mike


Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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Well, my last bottle in the house right now is the 'Natural Carmine' version and there's about an inch in the bottom. I'll probably be a local liquor store in the next day or two, but at this point I will be in search of the older version. I'll only get the new stuff after I try a few places and strike out, but won't consume what's left of my present bottle until I can do a comparisson as well. I am inclined to agree with Sam, though, that the relative age of the samples may play a large role in whatever differences there may be.


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I didn't even start to drink Camparai until last summer (first had it in a Negroni in Las Vegas back over July 4th weekend).

Where did you possibly go in Vegas to have a decent Negroni? I'm very interested to know if a good bar exists there.

BTW I just checked my latest Campari bottle and it lists the ingredients as sugar, alcohol, aromatic herbs, and E120. I wiki'd E120 and it is natural carmine. Yay!


Edited by jlo mein (log)

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I would have thought, with our anally paranoid food standards, that Australian law would require disclosure of colouring ingredients. But the two bottles I checked in bottle shops in the last few days mentioned nothing at all about colouring (or any other ingredients apart from the % alcohol content). The same is true of a bottle I emptied on the weekend, which would have been bought between 1 and 2 years ago.

So I'm afraid I can't confirm which version is being or has been sold in Australia, sorry. Pity, because I'd like to know myself...


There Will Be Bloody Marys

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So . . . I picked up a bottle of the new-label Campari and pulled out a few of the other bottles I had lying around, which consisted of old-label imported and some Italian bottles.

Tasted them all at full strength and room temperature. There is definitely a difference, I'd say. The older Campari had a more subdued middle-of-the-mouth bitterness whereas the new Campari has a more pronounced front-of-the-mouth bitterness with more intensity of flavor and a bit of a bite. Couldn't necessarily say that the newer stuff tasted fundamentally different from the older stuff so much as it tasted . . . well, "newer." The herbal components and bitterness were much more present, bright and up-front. Having tried bitter and herbal infusions at a variety of ages (some of them very old) this isn't a huge surprise. The up-front, bright bitterness of the new example I guess I'd say accords more with my sense memory of the Campari and Campari Soda I've consumed by the gallon during various trips to Italy. I'll need to go back and try them again both diluted and at colder temperature to see how my impressions line up. Whether it will be possible to tell the difference in a cocktail is hard to say.

Other than making some adjustments as to proof (I should point out that Sertl is both incorrect as to the proof and labeling of American-market Campari) I don't believe there are any differences in the formula as Campari is distributed to different regions. Indeed, considering that the formula is known to such a restricted group of people, I have strong doubts that the company is tweaking the herbal infusion for different markets. It would take an corporate effort of such size and scope to target, evaluate and implement regiona-specific changes that I can't believe it wouldn't come out. It does not appear from the reading I have done that the specific coloring agent is considered part of the "secret recipe" -- which makes sense considering that natural carmine was the only ingredient about which the company was not entirely silent. Rather, it seems more likely to me that the "old label" bottles we have floating around the States are quite old and have lost some of their zing. These more subdued flavors do have their own appeal, but I like the brash upfront herbal bitterness as well.

That said, I do prefer the older bottling -- albeit primarily because natural carmine has a stronger and deeper red than the coloring they are using now.


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Well, I figured that I'd do one last taste test before putting the issue to bed. I had a friend over the other night and gave her a bit of each at room temperature with a splash of water, then made two Negronis to see if the difference was apparent in a cocktail.

She was able to correctly call them both, and the comments were very much in line with before - I come back to Chris' line "slowly enveloping, steamy warmth compared to a bucket of hot water over the head." I was a bit surprised by how much we could each tell the difference in the Negroni.


"Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other." - W. Somerset Maugham

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I'm still on a carmine bottle here in Alberta, though I haven't bought in a while. I'll check out the store supply tomorrow.

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The up-front, bright bitterness of the new example I guess I'd say accords more with my sense memory of the Campari and Campari Soda I've consumed by the gallon during various trips to Italy.

Are you by any chance referring to the pre-mixed Campari and Soda that comes in small bottles and usually sold in a 6- or 8-pack. I have always thought that those had a bitterness (which I prefer) that could never be accomplished by adding soda to Campari from the bottle. I realize that this has nothing to do with the new vs. old debate, but I'm curious nonetheless.

I'm also a little intrigued. At the moment I can't drink because of some medication I'm on for a while, so I can't indulge in a comparison, but while I love Campari, I've always found it to be a tad too sweet, and have always added things to it (a bit of extra bitters, or a splash of brandy, or both) to try to cut the sweetness. Especially having enjoyed what comes pre-mixed in the little bottles.


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I didn't even start to drink Camparai until last summer (first had it in a Negroni in Las Vegas back over July 4th weekend).

Where did you possibly go in Vegas to have a decent Negroni? I'm very interested to know if a good bar exists there.

BTW I just checked my latest Campari bottle and it lists the ingredients as sugar, alcohol, aromatic herbs, and E120. I wiki'd E120 and it is natural carmine. Yay!

I ordered one a a pre-meal drink at Bouchon at the Venetian. Very tasty. Also, ordered one at the Parasol Down bar at the Wynn. Also nice. I both cases, no questions were asked by the server. At Bouchon, it came up. at Wynn, it was on the rocks. Personally, I like 'em both ways. To me, Campari works well on the rocks.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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I'm not really sure why, but for some reason this whole issue of natural vs. artificial coloring in Campari fascinates me, and I've spent some significant time this evening researching the situation.

The best overview I've seen is a Jan. 27, 2006 article in the Wall Street Journal, available here: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB113...k_20060203.html But that, I think, is only part of the story.

Natural insect-derived carmine (bright red) and cochineal (bright orange) dyes have been legal for food and cosmetic use in the U.S. for many, many years as what the FDA calls "color additives exempt from certification." (See 21 CFR Sec. 73.100.) FDA labeling rules allow the labels of products using certification-exempt color additives to declare them in a generic way as "Artificial Color." (See 21 CFR Sec. 101.22(k)(2).)

In 1998, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to change its rules regarding carmine and cochineal dyes, either by prohibiting them altogether or at least requiring product labels to disclose them by name, in large part due to concerns over the potential for allergic reactions. CSPI's press release is available here: http://www.cspinet.org/new/carmine_8_24_98.htm

In response, on January 30, 2006 -- nearly eight years later -- the FDA published a proposed rules change in the Federal Register (a government publication where proposed regulations are published for public comment before being codified in the CFR) dealing with carmine and cochineal color additives. In essence, the proposal would change 21 CFR Sec. 73.100 to require that all food containing cochineal extract or carmine to specifically declare the presence of the color additive by its respective common or usual name -- "cochineal extract" or "carmine" -- on the label. It would also change 21 CFR Sec. 101.22(k)(2) to disallow generic declaration of color additives for which individual declaration is required by applicable regulations in 21 CFR Sec. 73. The proposed effective date of the final rule was to be two years after publication in the Federal Register -- i.e., possibly as early as January 30, 2008. The FDA's proposal is available here: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/fr060130.html

But here's the rub: I cannot find any evidence that the CFR sections cited above have actually changed as of today. Indeed, 21 CFR Secs. 73.100 and 101.22(k)(2) still read as they always have -- meaning that it's apparently still legal to sell products containing carmine and cochineal dyes labeled as "Artificially Colored." If you're interested in reading the CFR sections for yourself, the best place online is the e-CFR database on the U.S. Government Printing Office's really excellent website, GPOAccess.gov (specifically, http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-...l=%2Findex.tpl )://http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/tex...=%2Findex.tpl )://http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/tex...=%2Findex.tpl ). (You've heard the saying "you're tax dollars at work"? Well, here they actually are.)

So, you're probably saying this is all fascinating but what the hell does it have to do with Campari and whether or not it's changed? Based on the research I've done, here's one theory (some of which is rank speculation on my part) about what's going on, at least in the U.S.:

1. For many years -- perhaps extending back to its introduction -- Campari sold in the U.S. was colored with natural carmine dye and the label identified it with the words "artificially colored" as allowed by existing law. I have confirmed this by finding, in a dusty old local liquor store, a dusty old bottle of Campari. I know it's old because the label has the original wording of "Campari Aperitivo" that the company used when it introduced the product to America, rather than the European "Campari Bitter" wording it uses today. I don't know the exact year this bottle was produced, but it has to be pre-2002 because the label reveals that it was "Imported by Campari USA, Inc." In 2002, Gruppo Campari acquired Skyy Spirits and, after that transaction, Campari used Skyy Spirits as its U.S. importer. This bottle, which I am now convinced pre-dates any possible change in coloring additive by several years at least, is clearly described on the main front label as "Artificially Colored."

2. At some point in the recent past, but presumably after January 30, 2006, Campari saw the "writing on the wall" from the FDA's proposed changes to 21 CFR Secs. 73.100 and 101.22(k)(2). Figuring those changes would become law in due course, Campari -- like many other companies -- began anticipatory compliance with the new labeling requirements to avoid potential problems with production when the rules actually went into effect. This, I believe, is what resulted in the bottles we've seen with labels that read "Contains natural carmine." All of these bottles should also say "Imported by Skyy Spirits" (in the U.S. at least) and would, I believe, be only a year or two old at the most.

3. Once companies like Campari began anticipatory compliance with the new FDA rules and printed words like "carmine" and "cochineal" on their labels, some consumers freaked out. While before Campari (and other products) could "hide" their use of these dyes with the words "Artificially Colored", now the "truth" was out and it caused a backlash. There are plenty of alarmist "bug juice" and "Campari is insects" articles on the web, and I'll bet it caused Campari some worry in its larger markets.

4. That worry (which of course I'm guessing about) may have been enough to trigger a change in coloring agent to do away with the carmine dye, along with the more obvious changes to the bottle shape/size (it's now skinnier and taller) and label (it's now smaller). And, of course, the label once again reads "artificially colored."

5. The question in my mind is this (cue mystery-movie background music): Did the coloring agent *actually* change along with the bottle and label? Has Campari *really* stopped using natural carmine dye, or has it just switched back to its original labeling practice of denoting the existence of carmine dye with the generic descriptor "artificial color"? Remember, as far as I can tell the CFR sections discussed above have not yet changed -- carmine and cochineal dyes remain "color additives exempt from certification" and thus are not yet required to be identified by name on labels.

Yes...well. An interesting theory, perhaps, but probably no more than that. Even I have a very hard time believing that Campari would switch its labeling in the face of pending FDA regulatory changes only to switch it back because the FDA moves at glacial speed (a reality that can't have come as a surprise to Campari). No, the more likely explanation has to be that Campari did indeed change the coloring agent to an artificial dye when it made its most recent changes to the Campari bottle and label, for better or worse.

But at least one thing does seem certain: If you're on the hunt for original bug-juice Campari, don't automatically dismiss a bottle just because it says "artificially colored." My research convinces me that older bottles (probably pre-2006 and definitely pre-2002) of the original carmine dye formula were indeed labeled this way. In the U.S., if you find one that says it was imported by Campari USA, Inc., you've found the real deal.

Cheers,

Mike


Edited by Mike S. (log)

Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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ok, here is something wierd. I just dug through one of my liquor cabinets and pulled out the bottle of campari in the back. I knew I had an older bottle of campari somewhere. I know this one is at least 3 years old as it was packed up in boxes during the house renovation.

It is the older style bottle show in this article.

The article says the bottle was changed in Fall 2006. Guess what -- the bottle I have (and the one in the picture on the left) both say

"Artifically Colored"

on the bottom right front label.

WTF? I know this bottle is at least 2-3 years old.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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John, my discovery today of an obviously very old Campari bottle nonetheless labeled "artificially colored" caused me to ask the very same question. The answer, best I can figure, is in my post directly above yours -- which we must have been typing at the same time. Great minds, and all that. :biggrin:

Cheers,

Mike


Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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(I should point out that Sertl is both incorrect as to the proof and labeling of American-market Campari)

As to labeling, I don't think Sertl was wrong when his article was first published in Saveur Issue No. 10, January/February 1996. As to proof, every U.S.-market bottle of Campari I've every seen is 48 proof, just as Sertl reports. I cannot speak to proofs for other markets, historical or current.

Cheers,

Mike


Edited by Mike S. (log)

Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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ok, now I am even more confused. what we need is to figure out the date coding on the bottle which would make it a lot easier. :biggrin:

I seem to have bottles of campari all over the house for some strange reason. Here is another bottle:

gallery_22527_3599_283651.jpg

gallery_22527_3599_747064.jpg

This has the embossed bottle, says Campari Bitter on the front, and is imported by Paddington Ltd., in Fort Lee.

So confusing. Anyone have any idea how to decipher the date code? About an hour on google turned up no results.

If I had to guess the first two letters would be a facility, and the last 4 would be a date string. Just a guess. Maybe we should all post our date codes and see if we can get a pattern.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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I have two bottles - both purchases at the duty-free shop in Rome's Fiumicino airport...

First off, the alcohol content is 28.5%. The bottles have different codes:

LN/RI06

LN/SG12

And johnder, I can't imagine why you, of all people, would be finding bottles of Campari hiding all throughout your house :wink: .


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Hmm...curious. Seems like Campari had a few importers before Skyy Spirits. Don't think that changes the basic point, though -- old bottles of Campari (regardless of importer) may be labeled "artificially colored" and still be made with natural carmine dye. FWIW, the label on the old bottle I picked up the other day -- the one that says it was imported by Campari USA, Inc. -- looks exactly like the pics John posted (same colors, fonts, bottle embossing, etc.) except mine says "Aperitivo" in the fancy gold script rather than "Bitter." Mine also has a small label on the bottle shoulder that reads "ITALY" (can't tell from the pics if John's also has this).

Comparison of the production codes would be very helpful if we could figure out what they mean; I also have not found anything on the web that explains them. I do note, however, that all of the natural carmine-colored bottles I have and have seen (older labeled "articifically colored", newer labeled "contains natural carmine", and regardless of volume from 50ml to 1L) have production codes that start with "LS" like the code on John's bottle. I happened by one of the larger local liquor stores today (Beltramo's in Menlo Park) and noticed that all of the 750ml and 1L bottles they stocked, all of which were the current bottle/label shape and artificially colored, had production numbers starting with "LN". Whether that's an important distinction or just a coincidence I have no idea.

Cheers,

Mike


Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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I read this about Campari with horror...nooo it cannot be true!! I have been drinking Campari for 20 years something and its my all time fav non-rum-drink!

Now i know for sure that they have changed the formula..and i`m NOT happy! :angry:

I went to the shop after work today and discovered that there were only the new bottles on the shelf. I bought one and back home again i compared it with my old bottle. And there really is a difference..

The old Campari tastes Campari while the new has a bland and also a more sweet taste..

I compared them neat. I will have to make a comparasion with some ice and soda as well. But gheee i`m sooooo disappointed!

Got to stock up on the old bottle from EBay..


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Yea I noticed the difffernece too. and I havent even been reading this thread. the mouthfeel is differnet and the way the flavor opens as you are drinking it is differnet.

differnet, sad but true.

I think it's time for a complaint e-mail to Campari!

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What we need to do is find someone who has some contacts with Gruppo Campari and put the question to them.


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