I first tasted Campari in the summer of 2010. It was the only alcohol within walking distance from the two of us who had just finished a long day of work. “It looks like grenadine,” I probably thought to myself, being the classless swine that I was. After a quick Google search on my Blackberry, I realized it could be paired with soda – yes, it was the only mixer we had.
A quick smell revealed a bitterness you don’t often associate with a refreshing summer cocktail, but it’s amazing what lengths a 23-year-old will go to in order to catch a mid-summer buzz. “Yep,” I thought after splashing a little soda into it. “Tastes bitter too.”
“Everything on Google shows that these are supposed to be served with an orange peel,” my friend told me. We didn’t have any orange peels. “Fuck it.”
Like the first time you tried your dad’s Budweiser, it took getting used to. Most aren’t born with a refined palate – it’s acquired. Yes, we finished the bottle, but it wasn’t something we intended to make a habit out of. 23-year-olds don’t drink Campari-sodas – they drink Miller Lite, Early Times bourbon, and Svedka.
It wasn’t until years later – 6 years, in fact – that I returned to the drink I had enjoyed on that fateful day before heading to the gas station and replacing our bottle of Campari with a 24-pack of Labatt’s.
“You know what?” I told the rest of the table. “That sounds pretty good – I’ll do the same.” Two-thirds of the people who had already ordered got a drink that hadn’t even made a blip on my radar since 2010. I remembered liking it, but not loving it. I’ll try anything twice, though.
Upon further review, I was shocked. My world had been turned upside down. 29-year-old me, a seasoned veteran who turned in his triple-hops brewed beers for IPAs and Hefeweizens, realized that this drink wasn’t the same drink he had before. Or, more likely, he wasn’t the same man he once was.
The notes of bitterness still lingered, but were perfectly followed with orange, cherry, and cinnamon. He closed his eyes and imagined himself in an orange field in Sicily. The soda water – not the flat two-liter he had originally tried it with – was crisp to the tongue and gave the same refreshing finish as your Perriers and San Pellies.
I was a changed man, and still am.
Anyone can order a vodka-soda. No, literally anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re an underage sorority girl ordering one through your of-age friend or if you’re a skinny-fat 27-year-old who is trying to limit his beer intake. The vodka-soda is the training wheels of cocktails. It literally taste like water and whatever wedge of dried out bar fruit you toss into it.
The Campari-soda, though. That’s a drink. Nay, a cocktail.
Most of these non-Frasier watching country bumpkins stumbling around the bar with whatever’s on special? They probably don’t even know what Campari is. But when you sit down for a dinner and drop that on the waiter? You turn heads. You create intrigue. You become The Most Interesting Man At The Table™.
Going out on a limb isn’t easy. It’s quite difficult, in fact, especially when there’s a team mentality with the group you’re in attendance with. You begin your life stealing liquor from your parents. You transition to giving money to your friend’s 21-year-old brother to get you whatever you can afford. You bring yourself out of the cheap beer phase and start buying the next level up – your premium light beers. Once you can afford craft beers and top-shelf cocktails, you dabble before returning to the old faithfuls that got you through your twenties. But every once in a while, you want to step out of your comfort zone. That’s your Campari-soda.
It’s perfectly pretentious. Refreshing. Original. Perfect. And once they’re in the rotation, you wonder why you drank the swill you previously thought was the best available option.
“Campari-soda, please.” Get used to it. .