(photo cred: uniquitchen.com)
Should I buy it? Gran Classico (in place of Campari?)
In one of the cocktail books I’ve been reading recently–I can’t remember which, and can’t find the passage. Sorry, fine author, for the lack of proper attribution!–the author mentioned something that is, of course, true and even obvious, but which I had up until that moment kept myself from noticing: Campari gets its distinctive color artificially. (guh!)
I happily drank Campari without hesitation up until then (of course, simultaneously judging blue curacao with everything in me), but ever since I’ve looked at it a little sideways, like it has a bad dye job.
As a reminder, Campari is one of the very many orange peel liqueurs out there. It’s the most orange peely of them all, and its very distinctive, very prominent bitter orange peel flavor is what makes it the primary ingredient in a Negroni. You may recall that in our post on building a bar, we recommend that if you’re going to stock your bar with only one orange liqueur, you should use Campari’s sweeter and softer sibling Aperol, because it’s more versatile. A Contessa (a Negroni with Aperol) is not the same drink as a Negroni, but it’s similar and delicious; meanwhile, Campari would simply overwhelm most other cocktails that call for a different orange liqueur.
You may also have noticed from our recipes that while we think Aperol is a good utility player, we in actuality stock several different orange liqueurs: Aperol, Curacao, Campari, triple sec. Substitution will work in a pinch, but each of these liqueurs does, in fact, have its own distinctives.
The way Campari’s fake color has been bothering me made me want to see, though, if there’s a way to substitute for it. Conveniently, the same author who put the bug in my ear suggested a remedy; he uses the naturally-colored Gran Classico in place of Campari. Gran Classico isn’t all that easy to find; so I ordered it online (thanks, more lax DC liquor laws!).
What we thought
The color is definitely more natural. And, more importantly, Gran Classico is a well-designed, interesting, and delicious liqueur. While the orange peel is still quite noticeable, it’s rounded out with root flavors (like you’d taste in a root beer), rhubarb, and more. It would taste delicious on ice with soda, and we’re looking forward to trying out its qualities in mixing.
It’s not, however, a replacement for Campari–at least for us. To us, Campari’s main feature is it’s unabashed, slap in the face bitter orange flavor. That’s what makes Campari Campari, and it’s what makes a Negroni a Negroni. We tried a Negroni with Gran Classico, and it was excellent; but we’ll have to give it another name.
I think we’ve added one more very interesting orange liqueur to our stable. Who knows, maybe it will replace Curacao, but I doubt it. Gran Classico is good enough to want in the mix, but distinctive enough not to replace our other Oranges.
Meanwhile, we’re keeping Campari around for our Negronis. And we’ve decided to treat it’s dye job as ‘taking good care of its appearance.’