I can’t think of many things that can improve a summer cocktail party other than an Aperol Spritz or a Negroni. The tangy bitterness found in both of those cocktails can be attributed to the Campari and Aperol liqueurs that are added.
Though these spirits have functioned as an apéritif – something to stimulate your palate before eating – in their native country of Italy for the last 100 years, they have slowly been seeing a rise in sales worldwide over the past decade.
In fact, in 2016, the Campari group announced that the USA had become their largest market, making up nearly 25% of total sales.
But given their similar background, it can be tough to determine what the differences are between Campari and Aperol.
Luckily I am here to break down those differences so you can know exactly which one you want to have in a cocktail or for your very own Italian apéritif.
Origin Story of Campari and Aperol
As previously mentioned both liqueurs were originally created and distributed around Italy. However, they were not developed by the same people, nor in the same area of Italy.
Campari was invented first by Gaspare Campari in the city of Novara back in 1860.
Originally, Campari was colored with carmine dye, derived from crushed cochineal insects, which is what gave the drink its signature red color. They stopped using carmine in 2006.
About 60 years after this, brothers Luigi and Silvo Barbieri decided that they wanted to make an apéritif with a lower alcohol content and after tinkering they finally debuted Aperol in 1919 at the International Fair in Padua, Italy.
It didn’t become particularly popular until the 1950s when someone else developed the Aperol Spritz, which is a cocktail made with three parts Prosecco to two parts Aperol and a splash of soda water.
Traditionally, the drink is served with lots of ice and an orange slice on the rim of the glass, however, in Venice, it is served with a green olive.
This drink became integral to the culture of northeastern Italy.
And then, after the Campari Group acquired the rights to Aperol in 2003, the brand launched new marketing that worked to bring Aperol Spritzes out of Italy and gave it to the rest of the world.
Now Aperol and Campari are both stocked in tons of different countries across the planet.
Campari vs Aperol – How to Tell the Difference
As mentioned above, Campari has a distinctive dark red color that originally came from crushed beetles, and is now derived from artificial coloring. This is in contrast to the bright orange that you see with Aperol.
Both drinks have distinctive and vibrant colors that make them stand out, which can be credited to their success.
If you’re making a fruity summer cocktail, you want it to look like a fruity summer cocktail. Part of the experience of drinks like this will always be the way that it looks.
Now for what many people would consider the important part: the alcohol content. Campari is definitely the bolder of the two spirits at 20.5 to 28 percent ABV, depending on where it’s sold.
Aperol on the other hand is only about 11 percent ABV, making it about half as potent as Campari. Although that said, Aperol is 15% ABV in Germany.
This was an intentional design, as mentioned before the Barbieri brothers designed Aperol with the goal of producing an apéritif with a lower alcohol content.
This allows the brand to market the drink as a particularly refreshing liqueur, which is something that a lot of consumers seem to agree with.
If the alcohol content wasn’t the most important part to you, then guaranteed the flavor is. Now if you’ve sampled your fair share of both Campari and Aperol, then you know that the drinks are characterized by orangey sweetness and rich bitter herbal undertones.
The combination of herbs makes this drink perfect as an apéritif because it properly stimulates the majority of your taste buds, ready for a delicious Italian meal.
It also makes them great for cocktails as they can bring the majority of the flavor.
A mouthful of either of these spirits typically starts out sweet and palatable, before slowly changing to incorporate more of the herbs and spices that have been used to create the drink.
As you begin to distinguish all the different flavors you’re left with a satisfying, bitter finish.
Now, without a shadow of a doubt, Aperol is the more palatable of the two drinks, owing to its much lighter taste, and how it’s sweeter and fruitier than the alternative.
It’s no surprise that Aperol has made more of an impact on the world of cocktails and summer BBQs. Campari on the other hand is unapologetically challenging and bitter, meaning it’s more often appreciated by those with a more refined taste.
Use In Cocktails
Due to its softer flavor and lower alcohol content, Aperol is more commonly found in lighter cocktails like the previously mentioned Aperol Spritz or even a cosmopolitan(see also: Cosmopolitan Cocktail).
These are more popular because you can drink them all day on a summer’s day out with less of a risk of a very messy evening (please drink responsibly).
Alternatively, Campari is bigger and bolder and is used in stronger cocktails like the Negroni or a Boulevardier.
Because it’s twice at potent as Aperol, these drinks would more likely be found at an evening cocktail party, rather than round the table at a BBQ.
It may help you to consider the two drinks like siblings. Campari is older, bigger, and bolder – in strength, flavor, and alcohol percentage.
It’s a classic, preferred by those who are older and have more experience drinking and eating fine foods.
People who can handle a stiffer, more bitter drink because they’ve already tried it all. It’s no wonder then that Campari is accredited as the national drink of Italy.
Aperol is younger, brighter, and way more accessible for those still partying through the day and well on into the night.
Aperol has a more palatable taste and a lower alcohol percentage, making it a much smoother drink. All of this works to its benefit it seems, as Aperol is by far the more popular out of the two.
In 2017, Aperol was the best-selling brand owned by the Campari group as it accounted for more the 13% of the company’s total sales. Which is honestly just very impressive.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Use Aperol In The Place Of Campari?
Yes! If you want a Negroni, for example, but want something a little lighter and friendlier, you can absolutely swap out the Campari and use Aperol instead.
Cocktails are made to be experimented with so that you’re getting exactly what you want. Just be sure to know what it is you want if you’re about to order a drink from a bar.
Can You Drink Aperol Or Campari Straight?
Yes you can. In fact, if you’re planning on using either of the spirits as an apéritif properly, then you’ll be drinking them neat, perhaps with a bunch of ice if you happen to want it to get watered down a little.
What Ingredients Make Up These Drinks?
The particular ingredients used to make Aperol and Campari are closely held secrets, but we do know of some of them.
For example, Campari is suspected to use the Chinotto fruit to create its bitter flavor, as well as infusing herbs and fruit in alcohol in water.
Aperol on the other hand is made with gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona along with a host of other ingredients that are kept secret.
So now you can see all the many differences that there are between Campari and Aperol.
They differ in just about every major category, so there’s no longer any excuse to get the two mixed up.
Perhaps now that you know a little more about the history of these two drinks, you might want to try experimenting with how you use them.
Maybe the next time you’re planning on having a lovely Italian meal, you can pick up one of these liqueurs for use as an apéritif before eating.
Or maybe now you know the best way to make a perfect summer cocktail, plus you’ll be able to impress your friends by telling them that Campari used to be made with crushed-up beetles (called cochineal insects, knowing the name will be important if you’re going to show off).
Always remember to drink responsibly, and have a glass of water in between every alcoholic drink, even if you’re drinking something lighter like Aperol.