A Negroni is a three-ingredient cocktail made with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Of those three ingredients, Campari is the only constant — you can try any type of gin or sweet vermouth, but you better not add anything except Campari. Well here's the thing: Campari isn't the only ruby-hued bittersweet aperitif that can be used to make an excellent Negroni.
Made by Gaspare Campari in 1860, Campari is a bittersweet aperitif — which means it whets your appetite — with strong flavors of orange and herbs. What exactly is in Campari is anyone's guess. The brand refuses to let anyone into its ingredient list, simply saying it's made of an infusion of bitter herbs, aromatic plants and fruit in water and alcohol. The lack of transparency into Campari's make up has done nothing to hamper the drink's popularity — in 2020, Campari made up 9.6 percent of its parent company Campari Group's $2.02 billion global net sales.
The world of red aperitifs is more vast than just Campari (and its competitor Aperol, which also happens to be owned by Campari Group). If you're looking to reinvigorate your love for Negronis, we found nine red aperitifs to take Campari's spot on your bar cart. And one thing that sets all of these bottles apart from Campari: you actually know what's in it.
Contratto Bitter's brandy base is already a big step up from Campari; its infusion of 24 botanicals knocks its bright-red competitor out of the park. It's incredibly herbaceous, which provides a delicious backbone to its citrusy bittersweetness. The color, derived from beet extract and hibiscus, is a nice counter to Campari's artificially dyed drink, and its strong botanical composition will have you taking sip after sip to get a taste of every ingredient.
Don Ciccio & Figli Luna Aperitivo
The Washington D.C.-based Don Ciccio & Figli makes a wonderful Campari alternative in the form of its Luna Aperitivo. It's not as artificially red as Campari, and Luna's flavor matches its darker hue. It's also not as sickly sweet as Campari, instead leaning more into its bitterness. Its fruitiness comes from orange and prickly pear, deriving its herbaceous notes from gentian lutea and its woody flavor from chicory. As good as this is in a Negroni, we highly recommend drinking this on the rocks to fully appreciate the flavors.
Faccia Brutto Aperitivo
Faccia Brutto is a deliberate grammatical incorrect, which in Italian means "ugly face." Faccia Brutto's spirits are anything about incorrect. Chef Patrick Miller, formerly of Rucola Restaurant in Brooklyn, made his Aperitivo through a two-week maceration of genetian, star anise, kola nut and other botanicals in a neutral grain spirit. The spirit is the perfect in-between of Aperol and Campari — not too sweet and not too bitter.
Forthave Spirits Red Aperitivo
One thing you'll notice about the Campari alternatives on this list is that a lot of them are made by local, independent producers. Forthave Spirits is one of those distilleries. Its Red Aperitivo is a mix of 13 botanicals — which includes citrus, wild roses and chamomile — that nails the balance of bitter and sweet. It's delicate, likely from its floral ingredients, but still incredibly flavorful and nuanced.
Leopold Bros. Aperitivo
Released in 2015, the Aperitivo from Denver-based Leopold Bros. was practically made to take on Campari. It uses interesting ingredients like hyssop, which is part of the mint family, and Artemsia pontica, an herb typically used to flavor vermouth. Leopold Bros. Aperitivo also takes steps that seem to be direct charges against Campari. The distillery uses cochineal, a crushed beetle, to give its Aperitivo the red flavoring, while Campari uses artificial dyes for its coloring. (Campari used to use cochineal until 2006.) Leopold Bros. also keeps out glycol and glycerin, which are used to make drinks more syrupy — like Campari.
Lockhouse Distillery Ibisco Bitter Liqueur
Hailing from Buffalo, New York, Lockhouse Distillery was inspired by Campari in its creation of its Ibisco Bitter Liqueur, but not trying to recreate it. Ibisco is made with a corn base mixed with grapefruit peels and coriander, whereas Campari is orange-based. It's a slight modification that makes a huge difference when it comes to taste. Lockhouse colors Ibisco with cochineal, like Campari used to, which it claims gives the drink its color without adding any unsavory flavors. Ibisco also has some awards under its belt including wins at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition and American Craft Spirit Association.
Lo-Fi Aperitifs Gentian Amaro
Lo-Fi Aperitifs uses its location in California to turn local grapes from Napa into fortified wines that make the base for its Gentian Amaro and vermouths, both sweet and dry. Gentian Amaro's white wine base is infused with ingredients like anise, orange oil bitters, hibiscus, grapefruit and ginger, all of which contributing to the drink's floral, fruity and spicy flavors. Its alcohol content, 17.5 percent ABV, is lower than Campari's 24 percent ABV, which makes it easier to knock back more Negronis before you get knocked back.
Mommenpop Blood Orange
Samantha Sheehan of Napa-based Mommenpop wanted to make a less-sweet alternative to Campari, and ended up making three aperitifs that rival Campari. For a Negroni, we say go with Mommenpop Blood Orange (though you can't go wrong with Orange or Grapefruit). The easy-to-drink, 17 percent ABV Blood Orange is bright and zippy, like you ate the actual fruit, rind and all. Mommenpop's aperitifs are looser than Campari, which takes away the cough medicine consistency and highlights the flavors.
Tempus Fugit Gran Classico
Forgive Gran Classico's lack of red coloring, but it still makes a great alternative to Campari. Its recipe is as old as Campari, dating back to 1860, before being sold to Tempus Fugit. Gran Classico is insanely flavorful, owing to its 25 botanicals ranging from a variety of herbs and roots. It lacks any food coloring, natural or otherwise, so you may confuse someone if you serve them a Negroni made with this. Compared to Campari, Gran Classico has a slightly higher ABV, 28 percent, and retains Campari's viscosity while turning up the bitterness to max.