Americano Cocktail

Frankbeverage18 Comments

Americano cocktail

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 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…

Americano cocktail
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.

Americano cocktail

Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

  • 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
  • ice

Instructions

  • 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.

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18 Comments on “Americano Cocktail”

  1. Your ode to the Americano as a quintessential summer evening aperitivo is spot on! The combination of Campari and sweet vermouth truly creates a balanced and refreshing cocktail that’s perfect for unwinding.

  2. Thanks for the fun background on this cocktail! I had no idea it played a repeated role in James Bond stories. I do enjoy a good Campari spritz on a hot summer day. I’m not sure I’ve ever made an Americano though as we tend to avoid sweeter cocktails. Maybe just a little splash of vermouth will do the trick, though!

    1. Definitely! This is a cocktail you can play around with to suit your tastes. I’m fine with Campari and other bitters, too. They’re my go to’s but this is super drinkable and a great change of pace every once in a while.

  3. this sounds very refreshing Frank. I don’t think I’ve ever had Campari or even vermouth tho 🙂 I am in my non-alcoholic drinks phase these days so I don’t drink but it does sound good. cheers!

    1. Thanks, Sherry! Too bad you won’t be trying this as it’s very tasty… Perhaps if your non-alcoholic phase comes to an end?

  4. Oh I do not believe this! You take me back decades when, as a young business-woman I was forever offered Americanos and highly ‘mistrusted’ their bright red colour !!! As I do not like sweetish cocktails, I actually did not mind the Campari taste once I tried! Have not had the ‘brew’ in the house for years . . . you make matters tempting 🙂 !!!

    1. Ha! I actually rather like the color but I can see why you might find it odd. Perhaps this post might nudge you into getting reacquainted?

  5. I don’t like Campari, but I do love the sound of this aperitif! And I love the photos. Have you ever had Dubonnet with a lemon twist? I know it’s not Italian….

    1. This might be to your liking since as I mention the vermouth does balance out the Campari nicely. I have had Dubonnet but it’s been many many years… Might be time to get reacquainted!

  6. We tried the Aperol Spritz in Roma when we were there in March but it was too sweet for us. A friend suggested we dilute it with soda water next time. This cocktail might be more of what we like, I’ll have to give it ago when we are in Italy again.

  7. We both love Campari, but I think this could easily become a favorite in our home. And I just looked (thinking I would make these this evening) – no Campari! Just Aperol. So glad our Trader Joe’s carried both! We’ll toast you tomorrow evening after the Sunday shopping.

We'd love to hear your questions and thoughts! And if you tried the recipe, we'd love to hear how it went!

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