The Best New Bitter Liqueur for Campari Fans
We took the Riserva Speciale Bitter for a test-drive in three cocktails.
Known by only true cocktail fans or Italophiles a decade ago, Campari has become a household name—the bitter, bright-red liqueur winning fans across the country. But iconic though it is, Campari is hardly the only such liqueur out there.
Case in point: Storied vermouth producer Martini & Rossi recently launched their own: the Riserva Speciale Bitter Liqueur. While a new release, it’s inspired by an 1872 recipe developed by founder Luigi Rossi.
Whereas Campari starts off a little more aggressive on the nose, Riserva Speciale Bitter is smoother going in, and a little prickly, almost spicy, on the finish. It’s rich and rounded with a real complexity, a pleasure to sip even straight. And while a side-by-side taste shows that the two liqueurs really do differ, any cocktail with Campari is likely to be equally awesome with the Riserva Speciale Bitter.
While developed specifically for Negroni lovers—they recommend a 1:1:1 Negroni with Martini Riserva Speciale Vermouth and Bombay Sapphire gin—we took the Riserva Speciale Bitter for a test-drive in three other cocktails. Give them a try.
Tough to pronounce but easy to love, a Sbagliato (zzbahg-liato, more or less) translates to “mistaken”—a reference to the way this cocktail, which swaps in sparkling wine for a Negroni’s gin, was allegedly developed. (We’ve never confused Prosecco and a bottle of Tanqueray ourselves, but hey, a legend is a legend.) Regardless, the combo of a bitter red liqueur, sweet vermouth, and sparkling wine is an awfully compelling one. And while testing this recipe with Riserva Speciale Bitter, we preferred a heavy hand on those bubbles.
Instructions: In a glass with ice (or a flute without), combine an ounce of Riserva Speciale Bitter, an ounce of sweet vermouth (Martini & Rossi would be the obvious choice), and three ounces of sparkling wine. Garnish with a few lemon triangles and straws.
Intermediate: Bitter Tequila Sour
Grapefruit pairs beautifully with this herbal, bitter liqueur—and the Riserva Speciale Bitter’s bright red hue just amplifies the citrus’s natural pink. Tequila adds a little bite for a cocktail that’s mildly bitter but extremely drinkable.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine one ounce reposado tequila, 1/2 ounce Riserva Speciale Bitter, 3/4 ounce ruby red grapefruit juice, and 1/4 ounce of agave syrup (that’s just agave nectar cut 1:1 with hot water, so it dissolves more easily in the cocktail). Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a few grapefruit wedges.
Advanced: Bitter Gin Fizz
This impressive-looking cocktail is all about the egg white—which doesn’t add any flavor, but does give this drink a silky texture and its thick, gorgeous head. Gin and Riserva Speciale Bitter are an obvious pairing—when a liqueur is bitter, odds are it works perfectly with gin—while lemon and a little simple syrup round it out.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker without ice, combine one and a half ounces of gin (use a good one like Plymouth), 1/2 ounce Riserva Speciale Bitter, an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and 3/4 ounce simple syrup. Add one egg white. Shake all that up without ice to aerate it—that’s called a “dry shake”—and then add ice and shake again for a “wet shake,” to chill it down. Strain into a tall glass without ice. Top with two ounces of soda. Garnish with a straw and a few lemon wedges.
Want to get really fancy with the pink foam on top? Here’s a bartender trick. Dump the ice from your shaker; you’ll still have plenty of egg white foam clinging to the tin. Slowly pour an ounce of soda water, and 1/4 ounce of Riserva Speciale Bitter, down the side of the tin and swirl gently; you’ll end up with more pink foam. Spoon gently on top.