The (BC) Campari Controversy

If you’re looking to purchase Campari in BC, you won’t be able to find it anywhere in the lower mainland or most of Vancouver Island. The BC Liquor Stores don’t do transfers from other locations, either. CampariWhich is horrible news when you’re craving a Negroni and you suspect that no one in McBride or Gold River even knows what Campari is!

Good news: when I went into the BCLS on Friday afternoon, a store manager at a downtown location said that Campari would be arriving sometime in the next week. At this point, we still have no idea what the source of the shortage was. According to the president of Gruppo Campari Canada, the slowdown affected BC simply due to “distribution issues”. These issues did not affect any of the other provinces, only BC.

So why is this particular liqueur so coveted, anyway? It’s not so much that its flavour is spectacular, it’s that its flavour is unique. In a cocktail, it can be replaced with Cynar (another herbal aperitif/digestif), or Aperol (similar blend as Campari but with half the alcohol content). Except that calling them all the same is like suggesting that all pinot noir wines are the same simply because they come from the same grape.  These are the most suitable substitutions available, but that doesn’t mean you’ll end up with the same cocktail.

NegroniCampari is an essential ingredient in a cocktail called a Negroni, which is simply equal parts of Campari, red/sweet Vermouth, and gin. I like to use 0.5 oz for each.

As mentioned above, Campari is considered to be an aperitif/digestif, which means that the best time to have this cocktail is before or after a meal. This is believed to be because the herbs used in the production of an aperitif/digestif are used to aid in digestion. Whether you believe in that or not (I would suggest trying it first!), a Negroni is not a sweet cocktail. It’s quite bitter and is not exactly the best choice for “a night out”. It’s not bitter in an easy way to describe; it’s not bitter like hops in beer or bitter like an orange rind, it has its own special kind of bitterness. I certainly think it takes some getting used to, even if you like bitter drinks.

Tempo Renovo GinI enjoy drinking them now, and obviously, the choice of gin is also going to be of the utmost importance. A Dutch gin like Genever will have too delicate of a profile to stand out in a Negroni, which will push the Vermouth and Campari forward. If you want it to kick, use a gin that kicks like Tanqueray. If you want a smooth gin where the gin flavour is still noticeable, you could opt to get some Hendrick’s but that carries a high price for something that is going to be mixed.

If you are living in Vancouver, lucky you! There are 3 local distillers producing gin that I would recommend: G& W Distilleries Tempo Renovo Gin (Delta, BC), Odd Society Spirits Wallflower Gin (East Vancouver, BC), and Long Table Distillery London Dry Gin (Downtown Vancouver, BC). Odd Society and Long Table have a tasting room where you can try everything they produce. I have yet to pay G&W a visit, but their bottle was a modest price, enough for me to gamble on it. I was happy I did!

Futher reading:
Campari cocktail recipes direct from Campari
5 Essential Campari Cocktails from Serious Eats