The best way to build a home bar is to slowly accumulate new ingredients. When you're first starting out, you want to make sure you choose things that will be versatile and show up in a lot of cocktail recipes. The first three bottles I recommend are St. Germain, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and Campari or Aperol. I'll talk about all of these in the next few weeks.
Campari and Aperol are both herbal Italian aperitifs, meaning they are meant to be consumed before a meal. Their flavor is bitter and herbal. Some might consider it an acquired taste. If you're apprehensive about the bitter flavor, you might try Aperol first; it's slightly sweeter and has strong citrus notes. Campari also has a higher alcohol content (25% vs. 11%). Because of these differences, which one you use can significantly change the taste of a recipe. So they aren't really interchangeable. But purchasing either one can add a lot of cocktails to your repertoire.
History: Campari was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, who mixed up flavored cordials in the basement of his Milan bar, Caffe Campari. The mix of herbs that give it its bitter flavor is a trade secret. Gaspare's son came up with the idea of mixing Campari with soda in 1932. Aperol was invented in 1919 by two brothers, Luigi and Silvio Barbieri, in Padova. They specifically kept its alcohol content low and advertised it as a healthier alternative to other spirits. Campari acquired Aperol in 2003, so these one-time competitors are now on the same team. Their manufacturers insist that both have remained faithful to their original recipes, which are regarded as trade secrets.
Alcohol Content: 25%
Popular Cocktails: Campari & Soda, Negroni, Americano
Alcohol Content: 11%
Popular Cocktails: Aperol Spritz
The two cocktails here are basic drinks meant to showcase the flavor of these two liqueurs. They are so classic, in fact, that both are featured on the backs of their respective bottles. I love drinking Campari with club soda and an orange slice, a popular before-dinner drink in Italy. When I tried the same cocktail with Aperol instead, it just wasn't right. This may be why an Aperol Spritz recommends adding sparkling wine to the mix, for a balanced, just-sweet-enough aperitif that seemed more popular than its cousin when I visited other parts of Europe.
Campari + Soda
1 1/2 oz. Campari
3 oz. club soda
Pour Campari into a rocks glass. Add ice and top with soda. Twist an orange slice into the drink and stir. Picture yourself in an open-air bar in Venice.
3 oz. sparkling wine
2 oz. Aperol
1 oz. club soda
Combine all ingredients in a rocks glass or wine glass. Add ice and gently stir. Garnish with the orange slice. Picture yourself in an open-air bar in Vienna.