Since Campari became cool again and Negronis began popping up on bar menus outside of Italian trattorias, there has been a quest by distillers everywhere (American, Swiss, French, and Italian as well) to create an alternative—something new that the Campari-loving crowd could sink its teeth into. First Tempus Fugit brought us the Gran Classico, then the Leopolds created their all natural aperitivo version, and just recently St. George jumped into the game with their excellent Bruto Americano. In between there have been twenty or so other Italian and French imports that have tried to steal a bit of Campari's thunder, hoping to lure devotees like myself away with the promise of something new and exciting. While I'm all for a little healthy competition, as someone who drinks about two gallons of Campari a week I can safely say that no product has even come close to replacing it in my bar. They were too bitter, or too sweet, or not sweet enough, or not bitter enough. Campari, on the other hand, is perfect. It's unflawed. It's never boring and it never gets old. I drink Campari like water (and with sparkling water). I've ingested more Campari in my life than every whiskey I've ever tried put together. When the recycling truck comes to pick up my empty bottles each week, the plastic blue can is full of empty Campari bottles.
The only product that's ever come close to luring me away from Campari is the company's other bitter aperitivo Biancosarti, sold only in Italy as far as I know. My parents of all people had a bottle stowed away in the liquor cabinet that they had brought back years ago. I discovered that bottle in 2011 and I enjoyed every last drop of it while it lasted. Biancosarti is pretty much a lighter, straw-colored version of Campari. You can enjoy it with soda or in a white Negroni (gin, Biancosarti, and white vermouth). So when my Anchor rep Chris Fu dropped by with the new Luxardo Bitter Bianco, I played along with fake enthusiasm. "Here comes another new contender hoping to challenge the champ," I thought to myself with a completely undeserved snark. But then I tasted it and my senses sharpened instantly. The Luxardo tasted legit. It was perfectly balanced between sweet and bitter with lovely notes of soft citrus. I rushed home after work to put the Bianco to the ultimate test: ice and soda water. I was practically sweating as I scooped the cubes out of the rubber tray, cracking open a small can of Perrier so that I had the finest of bubbles. I stirred carefully and sipped. Imagine an angel singing, the clouds parting, and a beam of sunlight shining down from the heavens. Not only was the Luxardo the best Campari substitute I had ever tasted, it was even better than my beloved Biancosarti. I was nervous that maybe something was wrong with me—my palate was off, or I wasn't tasting correctly—so I made a second Americano for my wife as soon as she got home. Her eyes lit up. She reiterated the experience. It was indeed the real shit. We drank two more before all was said and done.
For fans of bitter liqueurs, I can't promise that you'll like the Luxardo Bitter Bianco as much as I do. If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that everyone has their own unique set of taste buds as it pertains to aperitivos and amari. But I can tell you where my taste bud loyalties lie: Campari. This is the best alternative to Campari I've ever had. It has the same level of sweetness and bitterness and it melds with water in an almost identical fashion. The only difference is that it's white instead of red. I get the same sensation when I drink an Americano on the exact same parts of my tongue and palate (and that palate is seasoned at this point). I will never be without a bottle from this point on. I can't believe someone actually made a serious Campari contender after all this time. We have a winner!
I'm pretty excited.