Double IPAs. Black coffee. Kale salad. Our taste in food and drink seems to be getting rather, well, bitter these days. But that’s a good thing, especially when it comes to appreciating the delights of acerbic apéritifs like Aperol and Campari.
Traditionally consumed to stimulate the palate before eating, apéritifs — or aperitivos in local parlance — such as Aperol and Campari have been popular in their native Italy for well over a century. Yet the bitterness and complexity of these drinks has long prevented them from achieving mainstream popularity in nations like the U.S., which typically favors sweeter beverages. That is, at least, until recently.
Sales of Aperol and Campari have been steadily increasing worldwide over the past decade. In 2016, the Campari Group announced that the U.S. had become its largest market, accounting for nearly 25 percent of total sales. Key to this improved performance was an increasing demand for its iconic Italian aperitivos.
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Aperol and Campari are similar in a number of ways, but there is also a catalog of differences between these two classic Italian bitters. Here is everything you need to know.
Though they are now both owned and produced by the Campari Group, Aperol and Campari were first concocted some 60 years and 150 miles apart. Campari was invented by Signore Campari himself — Gaspare Campari — in Novara, Italy in 1860. Aperol, meanwhile, didn’t appear on the aperitivo scene until later, in 1919, when it was created by brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri in Padua.
Aperol and Campari are often linked to summer drinking, in large part because of their vibrant colors. Campari is the darker of the two liqueurs, displaying a vibrant shade of crimson that, up until 2006, was famously achieved using cochineal bug dye. Aperol, on the other hand, has more of an orange hue, evoking thoughts of the spirit’s predominant flavor, though more on that later.
Campari is also the bolder of the two spirits when it comes to alcohol content. At 20.5 to 28 percent ABV (depending on where it’s sold), Campari is nearly double the strength of Aperol, which contains 11 percent ABV (15 in Germany). And that’s no accident.
When the Barbieri brothers created Aperol in 1919, their goal was to produce an aperitivo with a lower alcohol content. It’s a characteristic the brand has repeatedly exploited to position Aperol as a “refreshing” liqueur — something that many seem to agree with.
Both Aperol and Campari are characterized by rich, orange sweetness and bitter herbal undertones. A typical sip starts sweet and slowly changes as you begin to distinguish a near- infinite combination of herb and spice flavors, before finally reaching a persisting, pleasant, bitter finish.
Aperol is, without doubt, the more approachable of the two, like a light, crushable lager tasted next to a craft beer with astronomical IBUs. It is sweeter and fruitier, while Campari is challenging and unapologetically bitter.
Use In Cocktails
With a lower alcohol content and softer flavor, Aperol is more commonly found in lighter cocktails, like the ubiquitous summer favorite, the Aperol Spritz. The bigger and bolder Campari, however, confidently holds its own in boozier mixes such as the Negroni.
When comparing Aperol and Campari, an easy way to differentiate the two is by thinking of Campari as the “elder sibling.” Just take a look back at everything we’ve covered — age, color, alcoholic strength, and even flavor — and Campari is bigger in every way.
Yet when it comes to popularity, Aperol leads the way. In 2017, Aperol was the best-selling brand in the Campari Group, accounting for over 13 percent of the company’s total sales. Bigger, it seems, isn’t always better after all!