Is there any aperitivo as welcome on a summer evening as the Americano? If there is, I haven’t found it yet.
What is an Americano? Equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth, topped up with sparkling water and garnished with an orange slice. It’s as refreshing as the popular Campari Spritz but more agreeable, as the sweet vermouth helps balance out the strong flavor of the Campari. It’s a great drink for those who find Campari too bitter or medicinal. Or anyone who might simply be in the mood for an eminently drinkable cocktail.
Origins of the Americano
The drink has an interesting if slightly murky backstory. Accordingly to most sources, Gaspare Campari, 19th century inventor of the eponymous liqueur, first came up with the Americano in the 1860s. He served it at his Milan bar as a lighter version of the “Milano-Torino” cocktail by topping it up with sparkling mineral water. (The earlier drink was so called because Campari is from Milano and Torino is the birthplace of sweet vermouth.)
There are at least two stories behind the name “Americano”. According to most English language sources, the drink owes its name to its popularity with American tourists in the early years of 20th century. But most Italian language sources tell another story. They say the name is an homage to the boxer and wrestler Primo Carnera. Though born in Italy, Carnera pursued his career in the US. The drink was dubbed the “Americano” when he won the title of World Heavyweight Champion in 1933 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. (Some sources also place the Americano’s actual invention to that occasion.)
The Americano in Popular Culture
The drink has a special connection with James Bond. You probably associate the fictional secret agent with dry martinis, shaken not stirred. And yet it’s an Americano that he orders in the very first Bond novel, Ian Fleming’s 1953 Casino Royale. The cocktail makes yet another appearance in the 1956 novel To Russia with Love, where Bond orders two Americanos during a flight to Istanbul. And it’s mentioned again in the 1960 short story, “From a View to a Kill”, where Bond says it’s the only drink to order at a sidewalk cafe. Bond says he prefers it with Perrier water, since an expensive water improves a “poor” drink.
The cocktail also appears in Patricia Highsmith’s 1956 thriller The Talented Mr Ripley, where Tom and Dickie enjoy an Americano on the via Veneto. It’s the beginning of a not so beautiful friendship…
Tips and Variations
One point to bear in mind when making this simple drink: Make sure your vermouth is best quality and relatively fresh. Remember that vermouth is essentially a fortified wine so while it doesn’t go bad per se, it does lose its charm over time.
There are a few variations on the cocktail. According to at least one source, the original recipe called for three parts vermouth to one part Campari. Nice if you like your cocktails sweet. If you like them bitter, a dash of Angostura or other bitter wouldn’t be amiss. And if you like things spicy, I’ve even seen recipes that call for a dash of Tabasco.
Italian recipes invariably call for a slice of orange, but the “official” International Bartender’s Association (IBA) recipe allows for a twist of lemon zest as well. The water must be sparkling, of course. The IBA recipe calls for soda water, but for me, it’s got to be mineral water and specifically, given the drink’s birthplace, San Pellegrino. In the summer, I like mine on the light side with lots of water, but most recipes just call for a “splash”.
Americano: The father of the Negroni
Cocktail aficionados will no doubt notice the resemblance to the Negroni cocktail, which is essentially an Americano where gin replaces the sparkling water. And as a matter of fact, Italians sources will refer to the Americano as the “father” of the Negroni, since the latter was first mixed in 1919 at the Caffè Casoni in Florence as a fortified version of the Americano.
1 cl 1 fl oz Campari
1 cl 1 fl oz sweet vermouth
sparkling or soda water q.b
an orange slice or a twist of lemon peel
Place a few ice cubes in an old fashioned glass. (If you're using lots of sparkling or soda water, you can also use a highball.)
Add the Campari and vermouth and stir.
ITop up with a splash sparkling or soda water, to taste.
Garnish with the orange slice or lemon peel.