If You Like Campari You'll Love Contratto Bitter

contratto bitter
Photo: © Carey Jones

These days, many cocktail lovers have tried Aperol and Campari. But there’s a whole world of other bitter, red Italian liqueurs out there. Our newest aperitivo crush? Contratto Bitter.

Campari fans will appreciate its complex array of botanicals; Aperol fans will like that it’s less aggressively bitter. And anyone who loves good drinks will appreciate that it’s rich and weighty, made from a grape brandy base. Just add soda and you’ve already got a complex drink, but try it in one of these three cocktails for maximum effect.

Easy: Contratto Spritz Redux

Any time we come across an aperitivo-style liqueur we love, we try it out in a Spritz, or some rendition thereof. Here, we’re straying from spritz orthodoxy by spiking Contratto Bitter and prosecco with gin — a great way to bring out its cool herbal characteristics.

Instructions: In a tall glass with ice (or a wine glass), combine 1 ounce of gin (use a good London Dry like Beefeater), 1 ounce of Contratto, and 4 ounces of prosecco. Give a quick stir and garnish with a grapefruit half-moon.

Intermediate: Contratto & Rye

Contratto Bitter is rich and sweet enough that it can take on the role of other ingredients, including sweet vermouth. Stir it up with slightly spicy rye whiskey and you’ve got a pleasantly complex sipper that’s super-sophisticated given that it’s essentially made from two ingredients.

Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of rye, 1 ounce of Contratto, and 1 dash of Angostura bitters. Stir until very well-chilled, then strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge squeezed into the drink, plus a grapefruit peel, twisted over the top to spray its citrus oils over the surface of the drink.

Advanced: Contratto-Cognac Sour

Since Contratto Bitter is made from a grape brandy base, we figured we’d pair that up with our favorite brandy — Cognac. Add lemon and an egg white (just for texture, not for flavor) and you’ve got a silky-smooth cocktail that goes down easy, showing off Contratto’s character in a lovely, slightly muted way.

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker without ice, combine 1 ounce of Cognac, 1 ounce of Contratto, 3/4 ounce of fresh lemon juice, 1/4 ounce of simple syrup, and 1 egg white. Shake all that up without ice to aerate it — that’s called a “dry shake” — and then add ice and shake again — the “wet shake” — to chill it down. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a brandied cherry.

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