Campari is a classic, a ubiquitous red bottle that stands out on every bar shelf. Since its invention in 1860, Campari has delighted drinkers with its uniquely bitter flavour and served as the backbone to several iconic cocktails like the Negroni, Boulevardier and more.
But with so much history behind the bottle, there’s a high likelihood that most of us don’t know a lot of the facts behind the brand.
Like KFC, or Coke, the ingredients are a closely guarded secret
For a drink that has existed for over 150 years, you’d think that the secret would be out by now but no, Campari has never revealed its full list of ingredients. Since Campari is an aperitivo we know that it is a combination of bitter herbs, aromatic plants, fruit, water and alcohol but the exact ingredients are a closely guarded secret. Some speculate that there is up to 80 different ingredients in Campari, but there are only a handful of people at any given time that know for sure, and the identity of those people is also kept under wraps. Other than water and alcohol, all we can do for the rest of the ingredients is speculate, except for when it comes to Campari’s signature red hue…
The trademark red hue used to come from bugs
That’s right, you read that correctly. Traditional production of Campari relied on a small insect called a cochineal to impart the signature red hue. Cochineals have long been used in the dye process for garments and other materials; when dried, crushed and rehydrated they foster a deep red colouring. While the ingredient is generally considered safe for consumption, Campari switched to artificial food colouring in 2006 for most of its global production, with the exception of a few countries like Sweden where you can still find cochineal as the colouring source.
Campari can be stronger, depending on where you live
Speaking of regional differences, Campari may not be the same ABV depending on where you live. A typical bottle of Campari in the US is 24% ABV, while Canada is served a sightly stronger version of 25%, and a bottle in Iceland is 21%. For those looking for a Campari with a bit more kick, then look no further than Jamaica where the alcohol content clocks in at 28.5%. The Jamaican blend is also said to be far more herbaceous than its US cousin, so it might be worth scooping up a bottle or two if you’re ever in the country.
Campari is closely tied to the art scene
Starting in the early 1920’s Campari began enlisting artists to design advertisements for the drink. These were not run-of-the-mill ads, but works of art of themselves. Some of the most famous works are now revered as iconic representations of influential art periods like the 1960’s and a few are even owned by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa).
In 2010, Gruppo Campari opened its own art gallery in the Liberty building in Sesto San Giovanni, Milan, which also happened to be the first Campari production plant.
There used to be a clear, sweeter version
Gaspare Campari originally offered a number of aperitifs and liqueurs, with the signature bitter Campari being his most popular seller. Once his sons took control of the business they reduced the brand portfolio down to two: Bitter Campari, and Cordial Campari. Cordial Campari was a clear, raspberry-based sweeter liqueur that remained in production until the 1990s when they consolidated it down to the single Campari we all know today. That’s not to say Gruppo Campari isn’t diversified; the brand houses over 50 different liquor labels including Skyy Vodka, Espolon Tequila and Gran Marnier.