If You Love Campari, Here are 8 Red Bitter Liqueurs to Try Next

Aperitivo hour is full of possibilities.

Red Aperitif

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As the ingredients that make or break crowd-favorite cocktails like the Negroni, the Boulevardier, and the essential summer spritz, red bitter aperitifs may just be your favorite style of liqueurs without you knowing it. It’s unclear when the first-ever red aperitivo was invented, but its roots can be traced back to 18th century Italy, where it was initially consumed as a medicine. It quickly gained popularity as a refreshing beverage, valued for its bittersweet flavor and low alcohol level. People sipped it straight at first, then gradually experimented by topping it with prosecco and soda water for a spritz, or stirring it with something a little more boozy. But in Italy, it's still most commonly served as a pre-meal ritual to prepare one’s palate, also known as “aperitivo hour.” Despite its Italian heritage, bittersweet liqueurs are now produced by many countries, “Bitter liqueurs are a tradition with a rich history in other European countries like France and Germany,” says Brad Thomas Parsons, author of James Beard award-winning books Bitters and Amaro. “You'll find many styles under the umbrella of amaro, from lighter aperitivo style to vino amaro to alpino, carciofo, and rabarbaro.”

Every aperitivo-maker has their own method and secrets, but the gist is that alcohol — either a neutral grain spirit or wine – is infused with a combination of bitter herbs, plants, and fruits. After it’s strained, water and coloring is added to achieve a look anywhere from vivid orange to crimson red. This was traditionally done with cochineal, an insect that releases a natural red dye. Although some distillers still use cochineal, many have recently begun to opt for vegetarian-friendly ingredients, like beetroot.

Fruity, bitter, and iconically red, Campari was created in Milan in 1860 and the recipe has remained the same ever since. Although the exact formula is top secret, Campari’s flavor is rife with intense orange peel, rhubarb, and bark. It’s most often combined with gin and sweet vermouth for a classic Negroni, or you can follow Emma D’Arcy’s lead and swap the gin for prosecco for a Negroni Spagliato. Or, keep it simple — take a big ole swig of a Miller High Life then top the bottle off with a splash of Campari to make the ever-so classy Spaghett.

For centuries, distillers and drink-making maestros have mastered their formula for red bitter aperitifs. Here are some of our favorites to try, especially if you're a fan of Campari.


Aperol is the sweet, gentle, happy hour obsessed little sister of Campari. It was invented nearly 60 years after Campari in the city of Padua, but was later acquired by the same parent company, The Campari Group. While they both have a distinct bitter orange flavor, Aperol is much sweeter and more floral than Campari. Its deep orange color just evokes that summer, porch-pounding energy.

If you’re over the Aperol Spritz craze, try shaking it with bourbon, amaro, and lemon for a more sophisticated Paper Plane cocktail. Not sure where to start with amaro? Madeline Miller, beverage director and sommelier at NYC’s Misi, describes the category as having staggering range. “It can be [as] bitter as ground coffee and dark chocolate, or as light as pine needles and mountainside citrus,” she says. Whether it's cooling mint or aromatic star anise, orange peel, or savory wormwood, amari can offer a glimpse into the endless flavor blends of the botanical world. 

Select Aperitivo

Aperol may be the “it girl” when it comes to spritzes in the states, but in Venice, Select Aperitivo reigns supreme. Invented in 1919, Select was historically drunk straight up. It became so popular that it largely contributed to the social and economic revitalization of post-war Venice. The liqueur is blended and macerated with 30 ingredients, including rhubarb roots and juniper berries, resulting in a complex, kinda spicy, kinda sweet, kinda grassy flavor with vanilla notes. Cocktail-wise, Select Aperitivo is most commonly associated with the Select Spritz which, like the Aperol Spritz, has prosecco, a splash of soda water, and an orange peel, with the addition of a briny green olive. 

Cappelletti Aperitivo

While Campari, Aperol, and Select are all liqueurs, Cappelletti is a fortified wine. Since 1909, Cappelletti has been infusing wine with a mixture of bitter Alpine herbs for a spice-forward, orangey, bittersweet flavor. Cappelletti’s refreshing profile makes it a great replacement for vermouth in a Manhattan (otherwise known as a “Cap-Hattan”) or it can be served simply with soda or even straight over ice. 

Contratto Bitter 

Originally founded as a winery in 1867, Contratto eventually gained worldwide recognition for expertly crafted vermouths and liqueurs. Their red bitter aperitif is a standout, made from Italian brandy that’s been macerated with a mix of 24 herbs, spices, roots, and seeds. The taste falls somewhere between Aperol and Campari – not too bitter, not too sweet, but with hints of vanilla and beetroot. We recommend shaking it with cognac, lemon, and egg white to make an Italian twist on a Cognac sour or keep it classic and throw it in a spritz.

Galliano L’Aperitivo

Galliano takes the red aperitivo in a Mediterranean direction. The Italian bitter amaro  benefits from a variety of citrus, such as orange, bergamot, bitter orange, tangerine, and grapefruit, in addition to spices like anise, sandalwood, and peppermint. This combination gives it a bright freshness, which makes it a beautiful replacement for an orange liqueur in a classic  Margarita or Cosmopolitan. 

Forthave RED

Although bitter red liqueurs are most often associated with Italy, some of the most exciting aperitifs are now being made in Brooklyn, New York. For one, there’s Forthave Spirits, a small but mighty distilling company that focuses on amaro, gin, and aperitifs. Their RED aperitivo, made with 13 plant-based botanicals like orange, chamomile, rose, and rhubarb root, is incredibly balanced. There is still a prominent bitter flavor, but it doesn’t overwhelm the softer citrus and floral elements. Forthave RED can shine in any Negroni or spritz, but we suggest you try it in an Americano — the sweet vermouth, club soda, and lemon will give Forthave an opportunity to take center stage.

Faccia Brutto Aperitivo

Founded by Brooklyn-based chef Patrick Miller, Faccia Brutto is devoted to paying respect to historic Italian liqueur recipes while riffing on them with small but impactful alterations. Their aperitivo is made with 17 fresh and dried botanicals, and gets its ruby red hue from cochineal. Its fresh, citrusy, floral flavor is almost as bracing as its fragrant aroma. The Faccia Brutto team advocates for trying it in a “Garey Busey,” which pairs the aperitivo with grapefruit juice and a spicy Tajín rim.

St. Agrestis Inferno Bitter Aperitivo

Yet another Brooklyn-based distilling company, St. Agrestis specifically designed their bitter aperitivo to make the best possible Negroni. Their Inferno Bitter is completed with three macerations (floral, bitter, and citrus) to create the ultimate complex blend. It’s a bit more juicy and herbal than other aperitifs on this list, but still has that distinct bittersweet taste.

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