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iraethan

Why is Campari not considered an Amaro or a digestif?

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A fellow bartender recently asked me why Campari wasn't considered an amaro. To the best of my knowledge there isn't a very good reason. Some say it's because amari (plural form of amaro) are grape based, but not all amari are grape based. Others claim Campari isn't an amaro because it isn't proofy enough, but there are amari on the market with less proof than Campari. I've read that most amaro's started out as family remedies or pharmaceutical remedies with their recipes tightly guarded, but this certainly isn't true of all amari, and if this is the only reason Campari isn't considered an amaro it seems a poor reason! Maybe it's just tradition or marketing, I'm not sure. Any thoughts?

In researching this conundrum another question popped up. Why is it that amaro are universally considered digestif's yet Campari is considered an aperitif? Generally speaking an aperitif is light and sweet. Yes, there are those that prefer bitter liqueurs before a meal, but pastis, fortified wines, and champagne seem to dominate this arena. The bitterness of amari trick your stomach into thinking its being poisoned and release gases to counteract that poison and in so doing settle your stomach after a big meal. To my knowledge Campari does the same thing, yet is almost always mentioned as an aperitif. What gives?

ira

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Why is it that amaro are universally considered digestif's yet Campari is considered an aperitif?

The fine folks at Fratelli Branca would probably disagree on this point.

fernet-poster.jpg


 

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Okay, so maybe not universally! But in any definition for amari, they are considered digestif's. The Branca people are double marketing, which may be what is driving Campari away from the amaro category and into the aperitif category...

ira

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I think there is some misunderstanding here.

First, an amaro may be either a digestivo or an aperitivo -- or both. It largely depends upon the alcoholic strength and the degree of bitterness, but also sometimes to the unique character of each product. Campari is perhaps better suited to casual drinking and use as an appetite stimulant than many amari, and this may be why it is typically thought of as an aperitivo.

Second, who says Campari isn't an amaro? If there are people who believe Campari is not an amaro, it is probably because it is sweeter and has a less pronounced bitterness than many of the classic amari. But if Cynar is an amaro, then so is Campari. After all, amaro simply means "bitter" and Campari says "bitter" right there on the bottle.

I found an interesting definition of amaro from the Italian writer Paolo Monelli, who says that an amaro is like "vermouth without the wine." Campari certainly qualifies under that definition.


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There's been a similar question posed in the Campari thread.

The bitterness of amari trick your stomach into thinking its being poisoned and release gases to counteract that poison and in so doing settle your stomach after a big meal.

Huh, you learn something new every day. I wonder if this effect is lessened if you drink significant/frequent quantities of amari...


Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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That seems highly unlikely to me. Indeed, part of "settling the stomach" involves reducing gas, not creating more. Also, who says that the stomach produces gas to counteract poison? Or, for that matter, that bitters "trick your stomach into thinking it is being poisoned"? What would be the mechanism for that, exactly?


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Many digestives work by helping one burp. otherwise known as releasing gas.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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A couple of things to point out.

slkinsey, regarding a definition of an amaro you said:

I found an interesting definition of amaro from the Italian writer Paolo Monelli, who says that an amaro is like "vermouth without the wine." Campari certainly qualifies under that definition.

This isn't very accurate, given that some amari are in fact wine based, such as Amaro Don Bairo. There are other amari that are grappa based as well.

slkinsey, regarding the settling of the stomach you said:

That seems highly unlikely to me. Indeed, part of "settling the stomach" involves reducing gas, not creating more.

here is a post from a blog. The fact that bitters release digestive juices can be found all over the web.

Modern science has been confirming what ancient people believed for many centuries about the medicinal use of bitters. “Tasting a bitter substance stimulates the secretion of digestive juices from the pancreas, stomach and liver,” says King. Bitters have been found to: support liver function and detoxification; tone and repair the digestive tract; regulate the secretion of hormones involved in blood sugar balance; and reduce cholesterol by increasing its elimination from the body. Research has also confirmed the impact of bitters on the liver. Because the toxicity of our environment and modern lifestyles can often overwhelm the liver's detoxification pathways, symptoms such as skin eruptions, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and malaise can crop up. Bitter herbs are an important tool in reducing such symptoms. Also, by increasing the production and secretion of bile (a byproduct of cholesterol) from the liver, bitters can help support healthy cholesterol levels.

Let's forget the Amaro as a digestif only aspect. Amari may well indeed be considered both aperitif's and digestifs, though I still tend to think they are more regarded as digestifs. The question still remains, why is Campari not widely held as an amaro, especially by the company that produces it? The Campari company refers to it through posters and a written history as a cordial, an aperitivo, and a bitter. Yes, this is the English word for amaro, but bottles of Campari sold in Italia also say Bitter and not amaro.


Edited by iraethan (log)

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I tend to think spirits based Amari are a relatively recent phenomenon.

That is to say, I can't see anyone making them based on neutral spirits until industrially produced neutral spirits became a cost effective option. And I think the origin dates of Campari and Fernet in the late 1800s fits in nicely with that theory.

As far as I can tell wine based, bitter herb beverages, whether you consider them the ancestors of Vermouth or Amari, have been made in Italy pretty much as far back as they have been making wine in that country.

To me, it makes sense to think of these wine based beverages as the ancestors of both vermouth and Amari.


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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Could it be as simple as Campari is not comsumed on its own, like most amaro?? Certainly in my experience Campari is more of a "condiment" liquor. The least complex preparation I've had ordered is Campari and soda, but more often with OJ or in a Negroni. I could be wrong, but I've been bartending and working in restaurants for a pretty good while now and I've never seen anyone drink Campari in the same way they would Fernet, Averna or any other amaro I've had at their disposal... :unsure:


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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So far, Katie's explanation makes the most sense. Of all the other amari, it's the only that is commonly mixed.

I just went to Compari's seriously annoying website (compari.com, it's all in flash)and as much as I can tell from the website, they only think of themselves in the aperitivo category. They off you the opportunity to watch certain cocktails, but all come in under apperitivo.

Maybe it's all just a marketing ploy to distinguish themselves from other amari..or... chalk it up to Italian style logic and tradition.

It's always been an apperitivo, so it shall remain. No other logic applied.


Edited by hathor (log)

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Maybe it's all just a marketing ploy to distinguish themselves from other amari..or... chalk it up to Italian style logic and tradition.

It's always been an apperitivo, so it shall remain. No other logic applied.

Hathor, I completely agree. There seems to be no rhyme or reason, other than to distinguish it from other Italian bitter liqueurs. I do like Katie's idea that Campari is generally used as a mixing agent, though there has been an growing number of cocktails with amari in cocktail bars all over the country.

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my take on amari, aperitifs, and digestifs are there are few rules. a wine base is probably only a tool to express a certain tonality of fruit or bring natural acidity. amari are not necessarily about being bitter but rather about the manipulation of bitter substances... (bitters substances are a challenge to manipulate because they are bitter)

often times the goal is to express aromas attached to bitter substances without making anything recklessly bitter. these aromas sometimes feel metaphoric and can move you in ways. the grotesque metaphoric juxtapositions in some amari are probably more stimulating that any effect of the bitter principle...

for the few that have the schemas to to take it in, amari makers can play with expectation and anticipation of aroma to bitterness ratios. amari artists use lots of tricks. bitter principles are extracted at different alcohol levels to achieve certain levels of extraction and then maybe fortified to a certain level to augment that perception again. or some bitter principles are distilled to remove the bitter (because its not volatile) but capture the aroma then that resulting distillate is re-infused with more of the same botanical to have for example 3x aroma 1x bitter.

i'm starting to be convinced that some amari even use thickening agents to play with perception. i sense a viscosity far beyond what sugar could bring in some... (meleti, ciociaro)


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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i'm starting to be convinced that some amari even use thickening agents to play with perception. i sense a viscosity far beyond what sugar could bring in some... (meleti, ciociaro)

I've always noticed that with Averna, to the point that I don't much care for it on it's own but really like what it does when mixed with spirits.


 

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Many brands of amari use caramel and or caramel coloring to add viscosity and color to their product, which is probably why, bostonapothecary, you sense a denseness not from plain old sugar.


Edited by iraethan (log)

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As an avid Campari/Rocks drinker, I'm surprised to hear it described as a "condiment" spirit. And since its creation predates the likely migration of cocktails to Italy, I'm inclined to doubt this categorization.

To the best of my knowledge Gaspare Campari was trying to recreate "bitter Dutch liqueurs" when he created Campari. This is obviously a break from the solidly Italian tradition of amari; is it possible that this is one point of difference?

My feeling is that, ultimately, there's some as say it be, and some as say it be'n't. The lines seem too blurred for a definitive answer.


Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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My feeling is that, ultimately, there's some as say it be, and some as say it be'n't. The lines seem too blurred for a definitive answer.

Fair enough, but now that we're talking amari, why should we stop?!? Anyone have favorites?

I love Amaro Nonino, I think it's very versatile and not too bitter or sweet. That being said I love Averna for its Coca-Cola sweetness and its place in a cocktail. Recently I used Meletti Amaro in a Tequila cocktail with great success. Amaro Montenegro is interesting for its funky, spicy qualities, as is Ciocaro. Amaro Segesta has smooth minty notes, but the eucalyptus factor is subdued, which I like. That being said I do love a shot of Fernet, generally Fernet Branca. I've used Ramazzotti in cocktails as well.

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Many brands of amari use caramel and or caramel coloring to add viscosity and color to their product, which is probably why, bostonapothecary, you sense a denseness not from plain old sugar.

my understanding is that it takes very little caramel to color something sufficiently. i'd be surprised if caramel was used with the intention of creating viscosity because there are lots of other options like malto dextrin or gum arabic.

its a interesting subject. producers have quite an arsenal of fun tricks and i have yet to find one i didn't think was greater than the sum of its parts. i think understanding what can potentially be done to create them makes them even more interesting to me.


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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As an avid Campari/Rocks drinker, I'm surprised to hear it described as a "condiment" spirit. And since its creation predates the likely migration of cocktails to Italy, I'm inclined to doubt this categorization.

To the best of my knowledge Gaspare Campari was trying to recreate "bitter Dutch liqueurs" when he created Campari. This is obviously a break from the solidly Italian tradition of amari; is it possible that this is one point of difference?

My feeling is that, ultimately, there's some as say it be, and some as say it be'n't. The lines seem too blurred for a definitive answer.

Clearly you've never sat on the other side of my bar. I've never had a customer order a Campari on the rocks, much in the same way I've never had a customer order a Luxardo Maraschino on the rocks, or a St. Germain on the rocks. Doesn't mean someone isn't doing it somewhere, but at least in the small statistical sample I'm dealing with, not happening. I'm speaking totally anecdotally and within my own tiny sphere of influence. I could be totally wrong, but it seemed a plausible explanation to me...

I like your theory about the migration of cocktails to Italy, but what time frame is your point of reference? Are we calling the Negroni the starting point? By what criteria are you making this claim?


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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My feeling is that, ultimately, there's some as say it be, and some as say it be'n't. The lines seem too blurred for a definitive answer.

Fair enough, but now that we're talking amari, why should we stop?!? Anyone have favorites?

I love Amaro Nonino, I think it's very versatile and not too bitter or sweet. That being said I love Averna for its Coca-Cola sweetness and its place in a cocktail. Recently I used Meletti Amaro in a Tequila cocktail with great success. Amaro Montenegro is interesting for its funky, spicy qualities, as is Ciocaro. Amaro Segesta has smooth minty notes, but the eucalyptus factor is subdued, which I like. That being said I do love a shot of Fernet, generally Fernet Branca. I've used Ramazzotti in cocktails as well.

You are welcome to come and visit and have a tasting with us! I've got most of these sitting in the kitchen right now. :smile: I'll take the hair splitting a step further: ice or no ice?? For my husband and our dear friend Pizza Guru, they have a very defined time period when ice is acceptable and when it's not, and they'll debate for hours on the subject. Maybe you can join them? I'm Grappa Girl so I generally stay out of the debate.

Curious what people are going to come back with on Katie's question about cocktails in Italy. I'm in back water Umbria, and there is a very small, but growing number of places where you can get a decent cocktail. Most local bars can barely make a decent negroni. Negroni (1).jpg

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You are welcome to come and visit and have a tasting with us! I've got most of these sitting in the kitchen right now. :smile: I'll take the hair splitting a step further: ice or no ice?? For my husband and our dear friend Pizza Guru, they have a very defined time period when ice is acceptable and when it's not, and they'll debate for hours on the subject. Maybe you can join them? I'm Grappa Girl so I generally stay out of the debate.

Curious what people are going to come back with on Katie's question about cocktails in Italy. I'm in back water Umbria, and there is a very small, but growing number of places where you can get a decent cocktail. Most local bars can barely make a decent negroni. Negroni (1).jpg

I'm curious to know what other people think the ice rules are for amari and what you mean by "defined time period." Are these Italians or Americans? Do the Italians have rules? For me it depends on my mood and what I'm drinking. I love Nardini with ice, Averna both with and without, and the Nonino without. I did an eye-opening side by side tasting of amari a few months ago and it confirmed what I had suspected - that these are my favorite for sipping. Must get back to Italy soon.

I've never had Campari alone or seen anyone else do so for that matter, but I can't oppose it on principle or anything. I say Campari is absolutely an amaro although it's traditionally taken as an aperitif.


Edited by daisy17 (log)

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Ira, I asked Stephen the original question last night and his initial response was, "I thought amari had to be grape-based."

Any thoughts as to whether that may be a sticking point? I.e. If it doesn't start with grappa (or similar) or wine, it's not an amari? Would this even disqualify Campari? (ETA: I now see that you made this point and dismissed it in your original post. What are some non-grape-based amari?)

We didn't get very far, because the question reminded him that he had a bottle of Tempus Fugit's Gran Classico Bitter in the back, which is amazing stuff. Somewhere between Campari and Cynar, a healthy does of bitter, but even nicer rounded sweetness.


Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Fair enough, but now that we're talking amari, why should we stop?!? Anyone have favorites?

I like Averna and also Zwack, which PA just recently began selling. However, I just learned that the product labeled as simply "Zwack" is not the same item as "Zwack Unicum" which supposedly is somewhat more bitter. The quest never ends . . .


Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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I asked my friend for a bottle of Unicum when he went on a recent business trip to Hungary. From his hotel he sent me a picture of my promised bottle of Unicum sitting on a table: my heart leapt with excitement!

When he got back, it turned out to be a 50ml. bottle he got from his hotel minibar. :hmmm: Been drinking it from an eyedropper to conserve the precious nectar.


Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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Karl,

Ira, I asked Stephen the original question last night and his initial response was, "I thought amari had to be grape-based."

Any thoughts as to whether that may be a sticking point? I.e. If it doesn't start with grappa (or similar) or wine, it's not an amari?

My understanding is that Amari are not all grape based, take Cynar for instance.

Oh, brinza, i love unicum! I was lucky enough to partake in a bottle with Toby the last time I was in NYC.


Edited by iraethan (log)

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