Campari is an herbaceous, bittersweet Italian liqueur that took the 1860s by storm and whose popularity continues today. Campari gives the Negroni its bouquet of orange and grapefruit, and plenty of other drinks their elan vital.
Make your own with this easy recipe. Keep the bottle for your own home bar, or generously give it away as a gift.
What Is Campari?
Campari is a blend of between 10 and 70 herbs, flowers, and roots infused into a high-proof alcohol and sweetened with sugar syrup. The Campari you find on store shelves is still made outside Milan, Italy according to Gaspare Campari’s original 1860 recipe.
While their recipe is a closely held secret—it’s said that outside of the factory director, not a soul knows all of the herbs included—gentian, oranges, rhubarb, and ginseng will get you in the vicinity. The rest of the ingredients simply help add more body, complexity, and brightness to the liquor.
What Ingredients Do You Need?
Your ingredients fall into a few categories:
- BITTERING AGENTS: These do just that: contribute the bitter complexity that stimulates the appetite and adds shape to sweetness. Gentian, the main source of our bitterness here, gives a radiating, resonant, and tangy bitterness. Wild cherry bark is more balanced in its bitterness and introduces some fruit tastes. Angelica root introduces a bold grapefruit and pepper tone, while ginseng brings a more clean, earthy bite. Wormwood, more famous for its association with absinthe, adds just a hint of anise or sweet licorice with its intense bitterness.
- FLAVORING BOTANICALS: These add depth and layers of complexity, and they contribute to a more flavorful experience overall. (Dried) lemon peel, orange peel, and rhubarb root bring style to the overall taste. (Note: This is dried rhubarb root, different from fresh rhubarb stalks available in grocery stores.)
- COLOR: As for that bright red color associated with Campari? Until recently, this color came from dried cochineal beetles, though today it’s produced using artificial coloring. What a world! Carmine or beetles are sometimes still available online, but you may also go with red food coloring for an easier time of it.
- SWEETNESS: Campari is a surprisingly sweet liqueur that just happens to be so bitter that you’d never notice. If you are careful enough in adding a rich simple syrup to your water volume, you can even match the brix value (or sweetness) of store-bought Campari, but easier still is adjusting to your own tastes.
Where to Buy Ingredients for This Recipe
You can order all of your ingredients from the following online stores:
What Alcohols Do You Need to Make Campari?
You need but one alcohol to make your own Campari: an extremely high-proof neutral grain spirit.
Galen’s 151 and Everclear Grain Alcohol 151 are ever-reliable options and fairly widely available. While you can certainly try out darker spirits, the neutral grain spirits allow the flavors to develop more fully and better stand out.
150 proof or higher is definitely recommended. The higher alcohol content will more effectively and quickly draw out the flavor from those ingredients – but you could go as low as 100 proof before you would see the alcohol failing to extract the flavor you so critically need.
What's the Basic Process for Making Campari?
The liberating pleasure here is in just how simple it can be to make your own Campari.
- Begin by combining the infusing ingredients with your high-proof spirit. Seal the jar and shake. Set aside for 2 weeks, shaking once each day. The color will turn brown and the taste will be so bitter as to be undrinkable. Don’t worry, all is well.
- After that steeping, strain the mixture using a sieve, then filter through cheesecloth, coffee filter, or a mesh superbag. The bitter, high-alcohol base that results is the heart of your Campari, and needs only a bit of sweetness, and some water to bring down the proof.
- To match the 28.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) of Italian Campari, we’ll need to “water down” that alcohol some. And to match the sweetness, we’ll need to introduce some sugar. You can do both at once by bringing 4 cups of water to a simmer in a saucepan and stirring in sugar. After it has fully dissolved, turn off the heat and let it cool.
- When your syrup has cooled, slowly stir it into the bitter, infused alcohol. You will likely need all of it, but once you have added 3/4 of it, taste it frequently, and choose your own stopping point. Hint: It should taste great.
- Adjust the color. If you are put off by the color, and/or simply want it to resemble the Campari to which you’ve grown so accustomed, add red food coloring until it settles at that bright, rosy hue you recognize.
The Best Bottles for Campari
When it comes to storing your Campari, so long as you are storing these out of direct sunlight, you can get by with any clear glass bottle or jar. That said, darker bottles do a better job of preventing light from gradually causing oxidization and evaporation. It may take months or even well over a year to notice a change, but you don’t have any other concerns outside of that.
Your best bet would be to find something that seems easy to use and enjoyable to look at. The rest will work out.
For more bespoke bottles, Crate and Barrel has decanters that are what you once imagined your adulthood would look like, while Specialty Bottle has a nearly endless selection of jars and bottles. This recipe will yield five 375ml bottles—perfect for giving away four as gifts, and saving one for yourself.
How to Use Homemade Campari
If you’re looking for inspiration, there are a small number of core cocktails to turn to first:
- Americano: The mother of the Negroni, the Americano is a simple but most-refreshing blend of 1oz Campari and 1oz sweet vermouth, topped with soda water.
- Negroni: Evolved from the Americano, the Negroni is the flagship cocktail of Campari, typically an equal parts mix of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth.
- Boulevardier: The Negroni, this time with bourbon filling in for gin.
- Old Pal: A Boulevardier, but with a drier, spicier rye substituting for bourbon.
- Old Friend: Further afield than the above, this is a bright, beautiful blend of gin, grapefruit juice, Campari, and St Germain elderflower liqueur.
How Long Will This Homemade Campari Last?
Your bottle of Campari will never truly go bad if kept in a cool, dry place and out of direct sunlight. If you are storing half-empty bottles in the light for over a year, you may notice changes owing to oxidization and eventual evaporation, but I’m confident you will have consumed your homemade Campari long before then.
As for temperature, Campari is high-enough proof that you needn’t refrigerate it, but know that warmer temperatures will make it come across as sweeter. That one comes down to preference!
More Delightful DIY Projects
This recipe requires a 2 week infusion.
We recommend liquid red food coloring for this recipe to maintain the drink's clarity. If your Campari turns cloudy, try milk-washing it to clarify it so it's good as new. Here's how to do that, plus an explainer on why that cloudiness can form in the first place.
- For the infusion
- 30 grams gentian root
- 20 grams dried lemon peel
- 20 grams rhubarb root
- 15 grams angelica root
- 10 grams wormwood
- 10 grams dried ginseng root (not powdered)
- 10 grams wild cherry bark
- 1 full orange peel, including pith, chopped
- 1 full grapefruit peel, including pith, chopped
- 1 liter 150-proof or higher clear spirit, such as Galen’s 151 or Everclear Grain Alcohol 151
- For the simple syrup and finishing
- 4 cups water
- 2 1/3 (474g) cups sugar
- Liquid red food coloring, as needed
- Cheesecloth, coffee filter, or a mesh superbag
Combine the dry ingredients and alcohol:
Combine everything but the alcohol for the infusion, mixing the ingredients well, and then divide between two 1-quart (32oz) mason jars, adding an equal amount of alcohol to each (you can also do this in one jar if you have a jar that’s big enough). Seal the jars and shake.
Infuse for 2 weeks:
During the infusion period, shake the jar once a day. The color should turn brown, and the taste will be so bitter as to be undrinkable.
After infusing, strain the mixture using a sieve, then filter through cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a mesh superbag.
Sweeten the Campari:
Bring the water to a simmer in a saucepan, then stir in the sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool fully.
Slowly stir the cooled simple syrup into the bitter, infused alcohol.
Make sure the infusion and simple syrup are at the same temperature, and add the syrup into the infusion, not vice versa. If your Campari turns cloudy after mixing, there's a fix. Find it here.
Adding simple syrup will also dilute the Campari to roughly the same proof as store-bought Campari.
Adjust the color:
If you are put off by the color, or simply want it to resemble store-bought Campari, add red food coloring until it settles at that bright, rosy hue you recognize.
Bottle and store:
Transfer your Campari to a clean bottle or jar and store away from direct sunlight.
Your Campari will never truly go bad if kept in a cool, dry place. If you are storing half-empty bottles in the light for over a year, you may notice changes owing to oxidization and an eventual evaporation, but the Campari itself is still safe to enjoy.