I’ve been reading a lot about Campari drinks lately, which is a little odd since I don’t really enjoy the flavor of Campari. But I recently tried it in a ginger liqueur cocktail and enjoyed it, plus I have a big bottle of it at home (I bought it to make punch and then ended up going with a different recipe than I’d planned on). So whenever I see a drink recipe that involves Campari and it sounds like it might be appealing, I save it to my Paprika recipe box. Looking through it recently, I noticed that there were two recipes with the same three base ingredients—gin, Campari, and Cointreau—in varying proportions, differing only in the fourth ingredient. After a little searching online, I found a third recipe that also fell into this category. And, of course, the Negroni involves gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth—but I had to draw the line somewhere, so I limited myself to the first three recipes.

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  • The Jasmine: Paul Harrington’s recipe (front) and Robert Hess’s version (back)

Or four, as it turns out. Two were supposedly the same recipe—but different. The Jasmine was invented by Paul Harrington in the mid-1990s, then adapted by Robert Hess to increase the amount of Campari and Cointreau and decrease the amount of lemon juice. They looked like they’d be quite different, and they were (recipes below).

Jasmine (original)
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 oz Cointreau
.25 oz Campari
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Jasmine (Robert Hess version)
1.5 oz gin
.5 oz lemon juice
1 oz Cointreau
.75 oz Campari
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

The original is quite tart—lemon is the predominant flavor. The orange liqueur (I used Patron’s orange liqueur rather than Cointreau, since it’s quite a bit cheaper but doesn’t have the artificial-tasting flavor of most triple sec) balances the Campari and nearly eliminates the bitterness. I liked the sourness of the drink, but it did become sort of mouth-puckering after the first couple sips; next time I’ll increase the amount of orange liqueur a little. Hess’s version is both sweeter and much more bitter. The orange liqueur still tones down the Campari, but relatively speaking there’s much less lemon juice, and the flavor slips into the background. It’s a cocktail that highlights the flavor of the Campari, which can be good or bad depending on your opinion of Campari.

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  • They all look the same but they’re not: the Cocktail Maison and Lucien Gaudin

The Lucien Gaudin is a classic cocktail: named after the French fencer, it was most likely invented during Prohibition (though I came across it online, it’s also featured in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails). It calls for one ounce of gin and a half ounce each of Cointreau, Campari, and dry vermouth shaken with ice and then strained into a glass. For a drink that’s all booze it’s surprisingly smooth, and the Campari gives it a bitter finish. Unlike the Hess version of the Jasmine, though, where the bitterness hits you right away and lingers, in this drink the bitterness sneaks up on you at the end. I liked it quite a bit, though I’d have to be in the mood for a really boozy cocktail to make it again.

I don’t know the name of the last cocktail I made, if it has one at all. According to the article in the Kitchn where I first saw it, it’s the house specialty at a restaurant in France where a friend of the author had it years ago. She liked it so much that she asked the waiter for the recipe and has been making it ever since (she calls it Cocktail Maison, which I gather means “house cocktail” in French). It involves equal parts Campari, orange liqueur, and gin combined and then poured into a champagne flute (about a half inch’s worth) and topped with sparkling wine. My quantities were inexact, especially since I had neither champagne flute nor sparkling wine—though I did carbonate some white wine as a substitute. Something about the flavor wasn’t quite right; it could have been because I didn’t have real sparkling wine, but the drink tasted a little too sweet. Pouring in a little of the tart Jasmine cocktail (Harrington’s recipe) helped, though.

I can’t say the drinks made me an immediate Campari convert, but I did enjoy most of them. I keep reading that people hate Campari until they love it, and these are all appropriate “gateway” cocktails—except maybe the updated version of the Jasmine. I’ll keep making the original recipe (with a little extra orange liqueur) and hope to slowly increase the Campari until eventually I start craving Campari cocktails.

Julia Thiel writes about booze on Thursdays.