Campari + Sweet Vermouth + Booze = Love

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

Name two under-appreciated spirits in the American home bar.  Did you say Campari and sweet vermouth?  You get a gold star.

Sure, everyone’s got the sweet vermouth banging around somewhere, because we all need a Manhattan now and then.  But chances are it gathers cobwebs while you’re off drinking other things.  Enter Campari.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

Let’s talk about Campari for a hot minute.

To the unaccustomed palate, it tastes primarily of cough syrup and ire.  But after acclimation, the subtleties creep up.  Bitterness and complexity.  Orange.  Grapefruit.  Herbal notes.  Suggestions of berries and stone fruit.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

Once you develop a taste for it, you’ll never be without a bottle.  You’ll be surprised how often you reach for it, too.  As a digestif, there’s nothing like a Campari and soda to set you right.

[Edit: YES I know Campari is technically an aperitif and technically so are Campari-based cocktails but y’all it’s just a drink and I like it very much as a digestif.]

Lately, I’ve been mixing one of these two drinks almost exclusively: the Negroni and the Boulevardier.  They’re pretty much the same thing, with one difference:

Campari + sweet vermouth + gin = Negroni

Campari + sweet vermouth + Bourbon = Boulevardier

They are, naturally, rather similar in taste.  The Negroni is more crisp and cool.  The Boulevardier is warmer and richer.  Both are sophisticated and well-balanced when made well.  It tastes like being an adult.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

You can use rye instead of Bourbon in the Boulevardier, which is also nice.  It makes the drink a touch less sweet.  (N.B.: Lest you think all this talk of “sweet” things implicates that it is a saccharine drink here, remember that Campari is as bitter as my cold, dead heart.  These are never a sweet drink.)

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love
i started with these li’l glasses which are cute but were never going to work

If you are actually insane and not a fan of gin, Bourbon, or rye, feel free to mix either of the unfortunately-named variations: Agavoni (with tequila) or Negronski (with vodka).  I have never tried these and have no plans to.  Proceed at your own risk.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love
much better

Classically, the Negroni is mixed with equal parts of everything.  But so is the Martini, and only sadists make them that way.  I prefer a more booze-forward approach here: 1 part Campari + 1 part sweet vermouth + 2 parts gin (or 1.5 parts, depending on mood).

I strongly suggest measuring carefully.  Proportions are important.  Mix the drink with too much Campari once, and you’ll never try it again.  I happen to own a lovely little shot glass with handy jigger-based measurements on the side.  I love this shot glass.  Making cocktails is so easy with it.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

I reckon you’re supposed to make drinks like this in a shaker, then strain out the half-melted ice.  But I never do that.  If you stir everything up in the glass you drink it from, that’s one less thing to clean.  I’m looking out for you.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

Besides, I like the half-melted ice.  It makes a satisfying noise in the glass.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

I’ve taken to adding a splash of sparkling water at the end, just before drinking.  It lightens the drink and opens the flavors.  Makes things not so boozy.

As for garnish, I usually skip it.  One is supposed to add an orange twist, but I never keep oranges around.  A lemon twist is weird and unnecessary in this instance.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

One word to the wise: cap your bottles when you’re done pouring.  Cap.  Your.  Bottles.  About five seconds after taking the above picture, my living room rug was being soaked in a waterfall of sweet vermouth, Campari, gin, and Bourbon (the Woodford, too!) after the backdrop I was using knocked them all over.  Lamentations were wailed.

Good thing there was a drink already made.

campari + sweet vermouth + booze = love

Negroni, My Way (and Boulevardier Variant)

Yield: 1 cocktail

Negroni, My Way (and Boulevardier Variant)

The type of glass is important here, as it usually is with cocktails. This is a no-bullshit cocktail, and it requires a no-bullshit glass. The ideal glass is something with a thin lip and a heavy bottom. Wide and short is better than tall and thin. Something solid and masculine.

Unless you have some darling little coupes, and then you should use those.


  • 2 parts gin (1 jigger, or 1.5 ounces)
  • 1 part sweet vermouth (1/2 jigger, or 3/4 ounce)
  • 1 part Campari (1/2 jigger, or 3/4 ounce)
  • Ice
  • Sparkling water


1. Pour the gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari into a heavy-bottomed glass.

2. Add a handful of ice, enough to almost fill the glass, but not crowd the booze or stick up above it.

3. Stir for at least 30 seconds. Count it out or watch the clock. Patience is a virtue. The ice should mostly melt.

4. Top off the drink with a quick pour of sparkling water.

5. Drink slowly over the course of an hour or so, ideally after dinner.


Boulevardier Variant:

Use Bourbon or rye whiskey instead of the gin. Proceed as directed.

Strawbalsamic, and the Cocktails It Hath Wrought

A few weeks ago, I posted a salad recipe that I had developed for a client.  That recipe, as so many of my recipes often do, involved the use of a Very Special Ingredient: Strawberry White Balsamic Vinegar.  Or, as it’s now commonly referred to ’round these parts, “strawbalsamic”.



That vinegar is so smooth and sweet, you can practically drink it.  So let’s drink it already.

These two cocktails are in the spirit of the shrub renaissance that’s been sweeping the bars and blogs of our nation lately.  Our strawbalsamic, though, is much less sweet and less complicated than many of those shrub syrup recipes.  Because with cocktails, there’s no time to mess around.  Simplicity is key.

I mean, there wasn’t even time for a garnish.  We’re on a tight schedule around here.

Could you make that salad without strawbalsamic?  Yes, absolutely.  Can you make these cocktails without it?  I don’t recommend it.

Making the vinegar (recipe here) will take ten minutes of your time (including washing the strawberries, plus the hands-off time needed to steep), and will reward you for weeks: in cocktails, in green salads, to brighten up grain-vegetable mélanges, or anyplace you might use lemon juice and don’t mind a bit of fragrant strawberry.

The vinegar recipe calls for a food processor, which I used because I have one; but I imagine you could get the same effect by smashing the hulled berries with a potato masher or fork.  Or shoot, just chop them up with a knife.  Don’t let a lack of power tools scare you off.  This one’s too good.

My Old Kentucky Strawberry

Yield: 1 cocktail

My Old Kentucky Strawberry

If you're a purist (or don't have a cocktail shaker), you can stir this drink together over ice, then strain into a glass. I like my drinks shook.

I tried this with both rye and Bourbon, and thought they were both delightful. Use something that has some personality to it. The Bourbon version is a touch more sweet, but not at all in a cloying way.


  • 1 jigger Bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1/4 jigger white creme de cacao
  • 1/4 jigger Strawbalsamic (recipe here)
  • 1 dash orange bitters


1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

2. Shake vigorously, and strain into a rocks glass. Serve.

Strawberry Bullet

Yield: 1 cocktail

Strawberry Bullet

Again, if you've got something against drinks being shaken, then stir and strain it. There's no judgement here.

I specify Hendrick's here, because when I tried making this cocktail with a more subtle gin (Broker's), it seemed a bit flat. I'm sure whatever your preferred gin, it will be a-okay.


  • 1 jigger Hendrick's gin
  • 1/4 jigger Strawbalsamic (recipe here)


1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

2. Shake vigorously, and strain into a martini glass. Serve.

Summer Cocktail: Back Porch Spice

This was the weather yesterday.

Yes, I live in Chicago.

We have “beaches” here, next to Lake Michigan, and there just so happens to be one at the end of my street.  Sometimes the lake looks murky and brown, but sometimes it looks blue as the Caribbean.  Yesterday was one of the latter, and the weather was beyond perfect.

Everyone was out in it.

It was a day for cooking outdoors…

for flying kites…

for building sand castles….

for bringing the hammock to the park…

for buying ice cream from the Monarca lady ringing her bells up and down the path…

and for generally enjoying the gorgeous place we live in.

But not, apparently, good for swimming.  (According to these signs, at least.)

evil fish are there
and evil germs, too

Faced with all this gorgeousness, like any self-respecting person, I decided it was the perfect day for a cocktail.

One of my all-time favorite flavor combinations is lemon and thyme; and it seems to go especially well with summer cocktails.  I am a confirmed Bourbon girl for the most part (as you may have noticed), but on hot, sunny days like this one, nothing quite hits the spot like a well-made gin cocktail.

This is a recipe I devised for a recent event, inspired by two separate cocktails: one, called “Spice“, by Ryan Magarian, and the other called a “Back Porch Swing”, from Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz’s amazing book, “The Art of the Bar“.

The overall effect is indeed like a dry riesling; sweet and tart are both in perfect balance, with enough depth of flavor to beguile, but not overwhelm.  It’s cool and crisp, and exactly what I want to drink when the sky is a blue as a turquoise.

cranberry juice, thyme simple syrup, pear nectar

I love the combination of the thyme simple syrup with the honeyed tones of the pear nectar, both offset with the bright sourness of lemon juice, and the slightest tang and pink hue from the splash of cranberry juice.

shake it so hard that your hands freeze

My gin of choice here is a newcomer to the market, called Broker’s, an inexpensive and mild – but intriguingly spiced – gin.  I did try it with my house favorite, Hendrick’s, but found it a bit too harsh.  Use whatever your favorite mixing gin happens to be.

One caveat for mixing cocktails: proportion is crucial.  When cooking most dishes, one is able to fudge a teaspoon here or there; but in cocktails, if the balance is off by more than a mote, the entire nature of the drink changes.  I have a favorite measuring shot glass, with measurements delineated at 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, and 1 jigger.  When in doubt, use tablespoons, and be precise.

i use this so often

Having said that, if you’re mixing cocktails in batches (which this drink lends itself to quite well), the proportions can be fudged a bit more than if mixing just one or two at a time.  I’m giving directions for each below; use whichever fits your needs best.

A word of warning, however: don’t be surprised if you end up making a large batch of the mixer for yourself, to keep in your fridge for summer cocktail emergencies.

Back Porch Spice

The standard rule for mixing cocktails is that if fruit juice is included, it must be shaken.  So it is written here.

1 part thyme simple syrup (recipe below)
1 part freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 parts pear nectar (such as Looza or Hero brand)
4 parts gin
1 splash cranberry juice
Thyme sprigs for garnish (optional)

1.  In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients.  Add ice, and shake hard until shaker is frosted over.  Strain into a glass.  Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired.

Back Porch Spice For a Crowd

The standard rule for mixing cocktails is that if fruit juice is included, it must be shaken.  So it is written above.  When mixing cocktails for a crowd, however, it is far easier to simply direct guests to stir the mixture over ice.  After one or two, even the most dogmatic won’t mind one bit.

1 cup thyme simple syrup (recipe below)
1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (from 4 or 5 lemons)
2 cups pear nectar (such as Looza or Hero brand)
1/4 cup cranberry juice (or just enough to color the mix a lovely shade of pink)
Gin, as needed

1.  In a decorative bottle, combine thyme simple syrup, lemon juice, pear nectar, and cranberry juice.  Shake gently to mix.

2.  Set bottle of mix out next to bottle of gin, with the following instructions:  Combine 1 part mix with 1 part gin, over ice.  Stir well, and enjoy.

Thyme Simple Syrup
Makes about 1 cup

1 cup cold water (filtered, if possible)
3/4 cup (heaped) white granulated sugar
3 to 4 sprigs thyme

1.  In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar.  Over medium-high heat, stir just until sugar is dissolved.  Add thyme, and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer 5 to 10 minutes.

2.  Remove from heat, cover, and let cool at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.  Strain, and refrigerate.  Syrup will keep indefinitely under refrigeration.