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.