How to Make DIY Campari With Crushed Beetles
We have some unsettling news: If you’re a longtime fan of the perfectly balanced, bracingly bitter, rosy-hued Negroni, then you’ve been drinking bugs. The same goes for fans of the Americano, Jungle Bird, or any other Campari-based beverage.
At the turn of the 19th century, Gaspare Campari figured out how to turn his herbal liqueur red using carmine, a dye extracted from the cochineal, a beetle-like insect. The formula for the popular liqueur included the creepy crawlies until 2006, when the brand went vegan—so younger drinkers have nothing to fear. And even those who did enjoy some pre-millennium Negronis shouldn’t be too freaked out: The tiny bugs have more in common with sand than scarabs. They’re technically not even beetles.
Some diehard Campari traditionalists claim that removing the bugs changed the taste of their beloved liqueur. We can’t speak to the minute difference between bottlings before and after the move to artificial coloring, but we can give those loyalists a nostalgic taste of the bug-forward Campari of old with our own DIY recipe.
Note: “DIY Campari” may be a bit of a misleading moniker. Campari’s recipe is a closely held secret, so the recipe below is an approximation of the famed amaro.
Mortar and pestle (or a muddler and bowl)
1 750-ml bottle vodka
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
50 g bitter orange peel
30 g lemon peel
16 g angelica root
12 g anise
12 g calamus
12 g fennel
12 g orris root
12 g wormwood leaves
8 g cochineal
7 g cloves
5 g marjoram
5 g sage
5 g thyme
5 g rosemary
4 g cinnamon sticks
Weigh out cochineal using a kitchen scale. Using a mortar and pestle (or a muddler and bowl) crush the cochineal beetles into a fine red powder.
In a saucepan, combine water and sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Add crushed cochineal and stir. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool. When the mixture is the desired red color, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth to remove the cochineal. Reserve in the refrigerator.
Weigh out all other ingredients using a kitchen scale, and add them to the vodka. Mix well, then store at room temperature to allow ingredients to steep for 2-3 days.
Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth to remove larger solids, squeezing to release liquid. Then, double-strain through coffee filters to remove any leftover grit. There will likely be some loss of liquid, but you should end up with about 650 milliliters.
Combine the infused vodka with the red simple syrup to taste. We found a 1:1 mixture of simple syrup to vodka provided the right amount of sweetness to counter the spices and herbs. A 2:1 vodka to syrup mixture would yield a more herbal, bracing liqueur.
Mix well to incorporate the simple syrup and vodka infusion, then store in a sealed container at room temperature. Serve over ice or in a Campari-forward cocktail like a Boulevardier.