My Favorite Campari Substitute Is This American Aperitivo

Welcome to Glass Half Full, a monthly column from drinks editor Alex Delany about what he’s drinking (and loving) right now.

Chances are you’ve had an aperitivo before. If you’ve ever ordered a negroni, an Aperol spritz, or an Americano (the cocktail not the coffee), then you’ve definitely tasted the bitter, rosy-hued Italian pre-dinner liqueur.

Chances are also high that whatever you’ve been drinking—whether Campari, Aperol, Cappelletti, or Luxardo Bitter—probably came from Italy, where hyper-regional aperitivi are part of the culture. Or at least, that would have been the default up until a few years ago, when the United States decided to get into the game.

We happen to be living in a new era of American aperitivo. Right now, small producers in cities like San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Denver are turning out their own delicious expressions of the appetite-inducing liqueur, bringing a range of new flavors and formulas to what Italy’s Campari-adjacent classics (typically reliant on dried bitter orange) already offer. Each label macerates a different blend of spices, barks, herbs, fruits, flowers, roots, and leaves from near and far to create unique flavor profiles, but my favorite of the bunch is Forthave Red, made in a cozy, single-room facility Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

This negroni gets even better with my No. 1 Campari substitute.


What makes it my number one? In short: balance. A lot of aperitivi lean on bold, aggressive flavors to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. But in Forthave Red, no ingredient shouts over the others. The notes of bright orange and floral honey and gentle chamomile and bitter rhubarb are all having a civilized, lovely conversation with one another, packing a bright bitterness and warm spice that you can taste in each sip.

Speaking of sipping, while I’ll use Red the same way I use the Italian stuff—subbing it in for Aperol for a more nuanced spritz or as a Campari substitute in a Boulevardier for a tad more vegetal bitterness—my favorite way to drink it is alone in a rocks glass, with a single ice cube. If that’s not a testament to how balanced and layered and downright delicious Red is, then I don’t know what is.

Right now, you can find Red in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. And if you don’t happen to live in those areas, I’d say get your hands on whatever you can find in the city you’re in. You know, like the Italians do.

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