Choosing Between Campari and Aperol Can Be Bittersweet

You may pass these Italian liqueurs in the liquor store on your way back to the beer and wine. They're a pretty bright orange and reddish color in bottles with classic Italian labels. But what do they taste like? And what's the difference in Campari vs Aperol? If you aren't already enjoying these Italian aperitivos in classic cocktails, what are you waiting for?

First, let's talk about Aperol. With that attention-getting bright orange color, Aperol is a bittersweet apéritif liqueur made from a top secret recipe. We do know that it includes essential oils from orange peels. Both sweet and bitter oranges are used along with rhubarb, gentian root, and cinchona bark.

Between Campari and Aperol, Aperol has the lower alcohol content coming in at 11 percent ABV compared to Campari's approximately 25 percent ABV. The term aperitif, or aperitivo in Italian, is traditionally served before dinner to stimulate the tastebuds for a filling Italian meal.

The History of Aperol

Luigi and Silvio Barbieri wanted to make an apéritif with low alcohol content that would taste delicious and wouldn't knock everyone out. The two Italian brothers played around with recipes for a few years and finally debuted their creation at the 1919 International Fair in Padua, Italy. They named it Aperol as a translation of the French word for apéritif, apéro.

Aperol didn't catch on until the 1950s when the Aperol Spritz was created. The Aperol Spritz exploded on the cocktail scene. This simple drink is three parts Prosecco to two parts Aperol and topped with a splash of soda water. All of northern Italy was soon drinking the Aperol Spritz out of a large wine glass filled with ice cubes and an orange slice garnish.

Fun Fact: In Venice, the traditional garnish is a green olive!

Liquor giant, the Campari Group, bought Aperol in 2003, and Aperol Spritzes became popular in the rest of the world through its powerful marketing campaign. Thanks, Campari Group!

Still considered a bitter orange aperitivo, when you compare Campari vs Aperol, Aperol has more sweetness and is softer than Campari.

What is Campari?

Campari was invented earlier in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Novare, Italy. It has a crimson red color that actually comes from crushed cochineal insects! But vegans are safe these days because Campari stopped using insects for color in 2006.

Campari has a more distinctive bitter flavor profile that we recognize (and love) in a Negroni or Boulevardier. Campari balances its bitterness with sweet notes like cherry, clove, cinnamon, and sweet orange peel. The alcohol content is higher at 24% ABV on average.

What Are Some Campari and Aperol Cocktails?

Mixologists have been playing around with Campari for decades longer than Aperol. So while they both have their places in many cocktail recipes, there are more established Campari cocktails than Aperol cocktails.

Popular Campari Cocktails

The Americano was invented in the Caffe Campari in Milan, Italy in the 1860s. Extra soda water made this a lighter Italian aperitif that Americans seemed to tolerate better.

Everyone has heard of the Negroni by now. Invented in the 1920's by royalty, Count Negroni in Florence, Italy enjoyed this mix of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. The Boulevardier is similar to the Negroni but whiskey is substituted for the gin.

The Old Pal came about in the 1920s along with the Boulevardier. The Old Pal takes the Boulevardier recipes and uses dry vermouth instead of sweet.

The Negroni Sbagliato was invented in Milan during the 1980's new wave. Equal parts of Prosecco, Campari, and sweet vermouth makes a mixed up Campari cocktail. The word sbaglioto actually means messed up or bungled.

Aperol Cocktails

The Aperol Spritz is still the most popular Aperol cocktail, but bartenders love to play. They've given us the something called The Paper Plane that combines equal parts Aperol, bourbon, Amaro, and lemon juice. It's a bittersweet punch of classic Italian flavors.

Another Aperol cocktail is called Naked and Famous. If you like strong smoky flavors, this drink may be for you. Combine equal parts Mezcal, Chartreuse, Aperol, and lime juice.

New cocktails are always on the horizon, so get mixing. If you have to choose between Campari vs Aperol, don't stress. They're basically interchangeable and there's really no wrong choice.