Loyal readers of this blog might remember my struggle to come up with a drink I could enjoy that contains Campari. The Amateur Cocktail Spouse is a fan, but me not so much so. I inflicted a great number of blindingly bitter drinks on myself and friends while I played around with it. Campari and orange juice was the only one I enjoyed but I was forced to pass on actually drinking those after watching a video from the producer that called the mixture “one for the ladies.”

My great discover has been another Italian bitters called Cynar. It is made from artichokes, is not quite as bitter as Campari and is sufficiently obscure to be just the ticket. I saw a recipe that included this in a recent issue of Imbibe – the Norma Jean (apparently Marilyn Monroe was the Artichoke Queen at one point). This drink includes gin, Cynar, lemon juice, sugar and mint.  Seemed like a good mixture, minus the mint. After playing with ratios and ingredients I came up with tonight’s favorite, the Cynar-Gin cocktail:

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 3/4 oz lemon/lime juice
  • 1/2 oz 2:1 simple syrup
  • 2-3 dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashion Bitters

Shake with ice and strain, lime or lemon twist for garnish.

This is a very enjoyable drink that has a satisfying bitter taste without being over-the-top. The Old Fashion bitters give it a spicy nose. Don’t go up on the citrus or you’ll start getting a lemonade quality to the drink.

Pokeberry update: Something funny happened shortly after my last transfer. The pokeberry wine is now pokeberry vinegar. A lovely, thick mother of vinegar formed on top of the liquid pretty quickly after I strained it off the solids.  I blame the catch-and-release fruit fly trap I had next to the fermentation container as the cause. Too many fruit flies and too little attention to hygiene on my part. Oh well, it may turn out for the best. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of pokeberry vinegar, so I can claim to be the originator of that. More importantly, there is no longer much temptation to drink the liquid – and– the increased acetic acid may help preserve the color of the ink longer. I have read that acetic acid helps set the color when poke juice is used as to dye cloth or fiber.  I still have my first batch in the refrigerator and it seems to be okay. I’ll do some comparison testing of the two liquids and see how they perform over time.


As summer approaces I’m obbsessed again with finding a way to enjoy Campari. Loyal readers will recall that Amateur Cocktail Gal enjoys a Campari and soda on the back porch whereas this author does not like. I enjoy a Negroni but that is pretty hard drinking for the leisurely pace of back yard lounge time. I’ve rededicated myslef to finding an ehjoyable Campari drink to enjoy with the spouse. I have had my ear to the ground over the winter and collected several recipes that we will try over the summer. I’m starting tonight with an attempt that approximates several drinks. No name for it yet because it isn’t quite settled.

  • 1-1/2 oz Gin
  • 1/2 oz Campari
  • 1-1/2 oz blood orange juice

Shake with ice and strain. Garnish with an orange zest, or flame an orange peel on to the drink.

Beautiful color, and I think a great base on which a more complex drink could be built. This one isn’t quite interesting enough to stand on its own. It needs something a little sweet and a little herbal. One half ounce of sweet vermouth, Benedictine or Chartreuse may be the key. The South Beach did it with the addition of some Amaretto. A dash of acidity from some lime juice would also help. Updates to follow –

The “Amateur” in our title was accentuated again today with Eric Felten’s latest great cocktail article in the weekend Wall St. Journal. Like last year, this weeks topic was Halloween cocktails. He mention a drink containing Monin Pumpkin Spice syrup in passing and dismissed it out of hand. Ouch.  I didn’t hurt too much, really. I was thinking fast when I came up with the Pumpkin Spice cocktail, and still feel pretty good about it (It’s pretty much a daiquiri if you use rum, and we do like us some daiquiris. In fact, I’m having one now, made with Meyer’s Dark Rum left over from a try at a Jamaican Black Cake. That’s for another blog). That said, his suggested drink from this year’s column as well as the one put out last year deserve a try. Today he pulled one out of the Savoy Cocktail Book: Satan’s Whisker. Great name, no pumpkin flavoring, no blood colored ingredients, just the name. Worth trying, but beware – very little acid, so it might come off flabby. Put some dry ice in it. Ha ha

Satan’s Whisker

  • 1/2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 oz Grand Marnier
  • dash of orange bitters

Stir and strain. Garnish with an orange peel.

The drink from last year’s column was in a somewhat similar vein. A dry cocktail without bizarre color or ingredient additions. One big plus for this one, it includes apple cider, a staple of our local apple industry. Unfortunately, the liquors called for aren’t carried by our ABC stores. Oh well – go to Green’s or Total Wine in Greenville SC and you will be rewarded. wink wink, nudge nudge

Wicked Witch

  • 1 oz Strega liquor
  • 1 oz Averna Amaro
  • 1 oz apple cider

Shake and strain.

Click here for another Averna recipe. It’s a good one.

Addendum (Nov 2nd): I’ve made several Satan’s Whiskers now. It is low acid as predicted, but very orangey without being cloying. I’m making mine as doubles – 1 oz of everything. That will give you enough to fill a decent sized cocktail glass


I’m still on the trail of a Campari drink (other than the Negroni) I like. The first issue of Imbibe included a reader submitted recipe for the Orange Viola – Campari, gin and passion fruit syrup. It is essentially a Negroni but with the sweet coming from the fruit syrup. I tried to track down passion fruit syrup and even passion fruits locally but no luck. (Monin has the syrup, but it seems too hot right now to have it shipped). An idea came to me one night – if you could substitute syrup for the vermouth, why not substitute another syrup for the passion fruit? Here goes:

Orange syrup

  • 1 cup fresh squeezed, strained orange juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • grated zest from the orange

Bring it all to boil and simmer for a few minutes. Strain and cool. Save the zest and let it dry – it is candied orange peel that is quite tasty.

ACG Orange Viola

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz Campari
  • 3/4 oz Orange syrup

Good, taste like a Negroni with an orange edge. The original recipe only calls for a 1/2 oz of syrup. Mine wasn’t sweet enough with just that amount so we adjusted upwards. I suppose you could use other commercally prepared syrups as well. You might need to run some test drinks to get the sweetness level right.

Thinking back to my peaches – I made a peach syrup:

  • 1 1/2 pounds of ripe peach flesh, diced
  • 1/2 cup of sugar

Simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and cool. Add 1 tsp of lemon juice. Save the fruit, it is also quite tasty.

This yields about 3/4 cup syrup. It is not as as sweet as the orange syrup, so you might want to add a little more. I will say that the delicate peach flavor was lost against the Campari, not an improvement. Still had lots of peach syrup left. Here’s where it was good:

Peach Bourbon

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1 oz peach syrup
  • 2 dashed Angostura bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a glass.

I first tried this in a bourbon sour but the lemon juice dominated the drink, so I omitted it and went the classic cocktail route given above. That one tasted like bourbon, wasn’t too sweet and had a nice peach edge. Keeper.

There was an emphasis on “Amateur” around here last week. I was pushing the envelop a bit with some drinks I made up. First I used some Passion Fruit drink picked up in Atlanta as a substitue for OJ to mix with Campari. Not terrible, but it was Passion Fruit “drink” not juice. That means it was only 25% juice and a little watery. I then came up with three bad ones in a row.

The Beet Infused vodka was pressed into service for a Gimlet. Something not good happens when the preserved lime juice meets the beet flavor. I got a kind of metallic edged liquid that was not appealing. Down the drain with that one. Next came a Tarragon infused gin Gimlet. Same bad result. I had put some work into the Tarragon gin. I wanted to like it. Next I tried it in a Collins with the Tarragon soda. Equally bad. No pictures for these – not worth remembering. I gave up and had a beer.

I have stained out the beet infused gin and beet infused Tequila. Based on the smell, and my lack of success straying from tried and true recipes, those two are stored away in the fridge for now.

We had a nice visit with friends this past Friday night, July 4th. Three couples and kids for dinner and North Carolina-legal fireworks. It seemed like a good time to mix some drinks for the grown ups. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with Campari so I took that along with a few mixers. I wanted some objective feedback on the drinks we had tried. Campari is an acquired taste. I wanted to get honest comments on the drinks before I made them part of our household repertoire. The other grown ups are rum fans, and had some white and aged rum we could use if the Campari did not go over well.

I made a list of about ten rum and Campari drinks I could mix with the ingredients I had. I spent a little time before the party squeezing lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange juice, and had those chilled down by the time we got together.

The Campari didn’t click. I tried Americanos, Campari and OJ and a Campari, OJ and soda. a Campari d’Asti was pretty good and well recieved. This came from William Hamilton’s book that collects some of his NY TImes Shaken & Stirred columns. I have not found the citation for the original article, so I assumed it was a column that never ran in the paper. Great dink though, Campari, Cointreau and grapefruit juice toped with Moscato d’Asti sprtizy wine. A Papa Double Daiquiri and my first attempt at a Mai Tai were quite good. The daiquiri recipe came from Eric Felten’s recent column. These were made without a blender, I just shook them really hard in the cocktail shaker to get some ice fragments. They are very dry. Next go round I’ll mix the grapefruit juice with some simpe syrup, maybe 2 to 1 juice to syrup. The Mai Tai recipe came from Science of the Drink – get blog, with good info. Small Screen Network has Robert Hess making one in a recent video. We used an 8 year old Mount Gay rum. I’ll spend a little more time with these sources before the next go round to get my technique just right. Definitely a drink to repeat. Just need to get my garnishes up to speed.

Overall, a great night. We polished off a couple of nice reds with dinner, a hearty 2004 Prima Toro and more refined 2005 Chapellet red blend.

I think I over did the number of drink selections. Next time we get together, I’ll probably come up with a menu of three or four drinks at most.

What to do with Campari? Every summer I pick up a bottle at my local ABC store. Amateur Cocktail Gal likes Campari and soda during the hot summer months. She picked up the habit during several summers working in Italy. I’ve tried to be a good spouse and share her enthusiasm, but the stuff is just so darn bitter, even diluted with some soda. When I asked her how you get to like it, she said “You just sit down with a bottle and by the time your through, you like it.” Hard core. This year I decided to figure out how I could make it palatable for me without the pain of draining a bottle.

If you ‘ve read through some older posting, you know I like a Negroni (1/3 each gin, sweet vermouth & Campari). That’s not a drink to have by the pool, too alcoholic. Great in a bar with real clothes on. Not great when a misstep could send you falling against concrete or into a pool.

Camapari and orange juice (1 part Campari, three parts OJ) is another option, but some Campari marketing I saw suggested that this one is “For the Ladies.” Not that I would dismiss it outright for that association, but it does make it something I’d be a little self concoius about if I ordered one in a bar (especially if the barternder was a woman). I’ll try it, but I’m waiting for blood oranges or tangerines to show up in our local markets. Using those instead of orange juice will let me put my own twist on it. That should distance me from the ladies drink association.

The Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda) was another possibility. This is supposedly the basis for the Negroni. Someone named Negroni simply substituted gin for the soda. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the Americano I made as a test, the Campari flavor shown too brightly.

There are several other possibilities out there. Tonight I’m trying a modification of the OJ+Campari, the South Beach. This comes from Dale DeGroff and is recorded in his Craft of the Cocktail. I’m not sure adding Amaretto makes a Campari and OJ a man’s drink, probably not. It does diguise the Campari and OJ association under a more obscure drink name that most people won’t recognize. If you order one, no one else at the bar will be the wiser.

¾ oz Campari

¾ oz Amaretto

2 oz fresh orange juice

½ oz Simple Syrup (1:1), optional

Flamed orange peel for garnish


Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into a Martini glass. Ganish with the flamed orange peel.

The resulting cocktail is pretty. The orange and red give a nice color. There is also a wonderful aroma from the Amaretto. Unfortunately, I added just bit of the optional sugar syrup and it tuned out too sweet. Amateur Cocktail Gal loved hers, but agreed on the sweetness problem. If you try it, skip the sugar. This might also be one to do with fresh squeezed blood orange or tangerine juice.

Next attempt to get the Campari down is a recipe from an old William Hamilton NY Times – Shaken & Stirred column: Campari d’Asti.

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