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Your New Aperitivo Secret Weapon

August 18, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Lizzie Munro

Carpano’s Botanic Bitter lends its lean and complex red bitter profile to the entire aperitivo canon, from the spritz to the Negroni and beyond.

Generations after they were created, many spirits and liqueurs in Italy are still emblazoned with the surname of the family behind the brand, serving as a bridge to the past while looking ahead to the future. Founded in 1786, Carpano is a name that stands out both behind the bar and in the history of vermouth. Herbalist Antonio Benedetto Carpano played a pivotal role in the popularity of this category of aromatized wine when he perfected the formula for a commercial version of it in Turin, Italy. The Carpano brand spread in popularity around Italy, and the 235-year-old company continues to produce a lineup of vermouths that resonate with bartenders around the world.

“Carpano has always had an air of luxury around it. It was different than the vermouths I was used to—sharper, deeper, exciting,” says Hayley Wilson, a bartender at a Scandinavian-inspired bar in Portland, Maine. Among the brand’s offerings is Carpano Antica Formula, a contemporary sweet vermouth based on a vintage recipe that’s beloved by bartenders for its bold, assertive style and distinctive notes of vanilla, cacao nibs and orange peel.

In addition to vermouth expressions including Classico, Bianco and Dry, Carpano also produces the unique Punt e Mes; the name translates to “point and a half,” which describes the blend of one part vermouth with a half-part bitter quinquina. “Antica and Punt e Mes are favorites of mine—they’re both true Clydesdales behind the bar,” says Danniel Linn, the general manager of a British pub in Chicago. “They’re versatile in cocktails—as the star or in supporting roles—and they’re perfectly delicious on their own.”

Now, with the release of Botanic Bitter, Carpano has introduced an elegant, nuanced red bitter that’s giving bartenders more room to create new twists within the classic aperitivo canon. The ruby-red blend is composed of 10 herbs, fruits and botanicals, including the peels of dried bitter orange and fresh sweet orange, saffron, sandalwood, rhubarb root, zedoaria (a type of turmeric) and myrrh, along with gentian, cinchona and wormwood, which provide a distinctive bitterness. Overall, the result is a complex, earthy, slightly medicinal profile with warm spice and aromatic citrus notes, and notably dry due to a sugar content of just 150 grams per liter—far lower than other expressions in the category.

“As an avid amaro enthusiast, this hits a bunch of key notes for me—the classic orange peel and gentian flavors I associate with a red aperitivo, elevated by a woody bitterness typically found in the darker, often harsher digestivo,” says Wilson. Meanwhile, Marguerite Regan, bar manager of a cocktail lounge in San Francisco’s Mission District, adds, “It’s a lovely balance of citrus and bitter herbs, with a modest amount of sweetness. I love the saffron and turmeric with the bitterness of gentian and cinchona.”

Linn, for one, likens Carpano Botanic Bitter to Clifford the Big Red Dog, for its ability to play well with other spirits (and its eye-catching hue). “It’s balanced and adds that red bitter pop without completely bullying other spirits,” he says.

Carpano Botanic Bitter Spritz Social

Carpano Spritz

The ruby color and the bouquet of oranges, aromatic herbs and botanicals from Carpano Botanic Bitter pop in this simple spritz.

Carpano Negroni Social

Carpano Negroni

Carpano Botanic Bitter meets Antica Formula for a a deep, rich, bittersweet experience.

Carpano Negroni Sbagliato Social

Carpano Negroni Sbagliato

A elevated build that bridges the best elements of the spritz with the bold flavor of the iconic Negroni.

When it comes to applying Carpano Botanic Bitter in creative cocktails, there’s no better place to start than a classic spritz, the bitter, bubbly, low-ABV combination of red bitter, sparkling wine and soda that remains the darling of the aperitivo scene around the world. “A classic spritz with Carpano Botanic Bitter is bright and dry, with all the botanicals coming through highlighted by the effervescence of sparkling wine and soda water,” says Regan. Linn recommends using Carpano Botanic Bitter in a spritz if you want a bit more bitterness, and deviates from the classic spritz build by scaling back on the sparkling wine to let the red aperitivo bitter “shine a bit more.”

The Negroni, with its equal-parts formula of gin, red bitters and sweet vermouth, is an opportunity to pair Botanic Bitter with Carpano’s bold Antica Formula vermouth. “The result is a deep, rich Negroni that leaves me swooning,” Wilson says, effusively. “The subtle vanilla notes and big body brought by Antica are a match made in heaven with Botanic Bitter and a classic London dry gin. It’s an absolute slam dunk.”

And for an option that bridges the brightness of the spritz with the bold flavor of a Negroni, consider the Negroni Sbagliato. This “mistaken” version of the Negroni trades the gin layer for Prosecco, yielding a lighter, more sessionable take on the Italian classic. Wilson suggests trying two takes with Botanic Bitter: one with a dry sparkling wine and another with a juicier expression, for two vastly different versions. “The drier version is sharp and herbaceous, while the same drink with a demi-sec sparkling wine is ripe and refreshing. I think this speaks volumes to the versatility of Carpano Botanic Bitter.”

When considering how to use Botanic Bitter elsewhere, take a tip from Linn, who recommends starting off trying it blended with soda water, then gradually dialing back the soda until you’re sampling it on its own. “As you continue tasting, think of other spirits that you’ve been reminded of throughout your red bitter journey,” he says. “Start slowly adding some of those in the mix. Maybe bring some soda water back in. Who knows? It’s a big world out there. Figure out what you like and run with it.”