Measure & Stir

A Craft Cocktail Blog for the Home Bartender that Focuses on Original Creations Drawn from Culinary Inspiration.


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Blood and Smoke

So we were brainstorming what to do with various teas, and we wanted to try every way we could think of to get tea into a drink. We tried infusing the tea in spirits, and in vinegar, and in syrups; we tried brewing the tea and reducing it, we tried matcha, we tried adding boiling tea to hot toddies and chilled tea to iced-tea style drinks. We had one drink that failed three times. Sometimes you just have to make peace with your failures… Cardamom and earl grey are just too similar to make a nice drink together.

But this is not a post about failure! This is a riff on a drink we made last summer, the Blood and Oak. I wish I could say it was for Mixology Monday, but it isn’t. I inverted the um, uh, the– I inverted the infusion! Normally you would infuse the base spirit, but for this one I infused the liqueur. I’m so edgy.

blood and smoke

Blood and Smoke
2 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
1 oz Blood Orange Juice
.5 oz Lapsang Souchong Syrup
.25 oz Ancho Chili-Infused Campari
Shake over ice and double strain into a coup. Garnish with a blood orange peel.

This was a little too sweet. I wanted that lapsang souchong in the drink, but the syrup just added unnecessary sugar. You can see I followed the same formula that you would for a Blood and Sand. I infused the campari with a dried ancho chile, seeds removed, for about two hours. You have to watch a chili pepper infusion very carefully — overdo it and it turns into mace. I think if I had to do it again, I would put the lapsang in with the ancho, and just infuse it all into the campari. Bump up the proportion to .5, and I think you would have a much more respectable drink.

So, if you actually do it, do it like this:

Blood and Smoke (Revised)
2 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
1 oz Blood Orange Juice
.5 oz Lapsang Souchong and Ancho Chili-Infused Campari
Shake over ice and double strain into a coup. Garnish with a blood orange peel.

And adjust the proportions to your taste. You need to select an amount of orange juice that mediates, but does not nullify, the capsaicin burn from the chili, and it might be that .75 oz works better. That depends on the strength of your infusion and your own good taste.

Sorry I missed you, MxMo, and Cheers.


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Barrel-Aged Monogram

Well, OK, semi-barrel-aged. Barrel-aging a drink has two effects. The first is that all of the flavors in the different ingredients meld together, and the second is that the oak flavor of the barrel infuses into the spirits. I have had cocktails that were aged in mason jars, and I have had cocktails that were aged in actual barrels. I prefer the second variety, as I would imagine, most drinkers do.

monogram2

Generally one can only barrel-age aromatic drinks; citrus or dairy is too perishable to withstand the aging process. I wanted to try this process with one of my favorite drinks, the union club. My method was to premix all of the ingredients but the orange juice, and then add the orange juice at mix-time, as usual. I did not have a proper barrel, so instead I simply combined the bourbon and the liqueurs in a glass bottle with some toasted oak chips, and set them to age.

I tried the aging two different ways; in the first version, I oak-aged only the campari and maraschino, and in the second, I oak-aged all of the spirit ingredients. I ended up preferring the version with only the campari and maraschino together. As the flavors meld, they lose some of their distinctiveness. One of my favorite parts of tasting a mixed drink is picking out the individual pieces from the whole, and I found the flavor more interesting when the bourbon was separate.

Moreover, I designed this variation of the union club specifically for my birthday party, so I borrowed a page from Mark Sexauer, who made the excellent Humo Flotador for our Garnish-themed Mixology Monday.

monogram1

Monogram
1.5 oz Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
1 oz Oak-Aged Campari and Maraschino (1:1)
1 oz Fresh Cara Cara Orange Juice
Shake all over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Top with orange Scotch foam* and spray-stencil my initials onto the foam in angostura bitters.

*See below.

The orange and the liqueurs came together in such a way that they tasted very much like blood orange juice and bourbon. I think that owes in part to my use of Cara Cara oranges, which are a bit more bitter than navel or valencia. I did enjoyed the blood orange flavor, but on the whole I thought the drink on its own was lacking in brighter flavors.

We made up for the lack of brightness in the base by topping it with a light, citrusy foam. I followed Mark’s recipe, but I swapped out the mezcal for a blended scotch, which I infused for one day with orange peels, to help it match the drink below it. Mark’s recipe calls for two teaspoons of gelatin, but when I tried it that way, I found that my foam would begin to “set” in the glass and turn slightly jello-y.

I myself tend to drink mixed drinks quickly, but I have had many guests who prefer to sip slowly, so I halved the gelatin and I was very pleased with the results.

Orange Scotch Foam
1 tsp Gelatin
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Sugar
5 Egg Whites
3 oz Orange Peel-Infused Scotch
2 oz Lemon Juice
Combine all in an iSi Whipped Cream dispenser and charge with two cartridges. Shake vigorously.

After topping the drink with foam, we sprayed bitters through a Misto through a stencil that we cut with an exacto knife.

Orange, whiskey, Campari, and Maraschino. Shake, and garnish with narcissism.

Happy Monday.


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Gourd Vibrations

Happy Halloween! I wanted to use the scariest ingredient I could think of to make this drink, so I chose Campari, because although it does not scare me, many people seem to be averse to it. I personally enjoy challenging ingredients; I see them as new territories to conquer. James and I had a meal at a Seattle restaurant called Altura, where they served us an aperitif consisting of blood orange juice, carrot juice, and Campari in a miniature hurricane glass. It was only a taste, but the flavor of carrot and Campari paired surprisingly well. Perhaps it should not have been a surprise, as Campari contains the flavor of bitter orange peels, and carrot orange juice is a classic Moroccan combination, with a bit of ginger.

For holidays, I always like to do something a little bit special (just wait til Thanksgiving, wherein I will garnish a drink with a whole roast turkey…maybe), and James and I had been tossing around the idea of using a gourd as a serving vessel for a while. A raw gourd has sour, savory, and vegetal notes, and we were worried that it might strike a dissonant chord with a mixed drink if we used it as a vessel. The realization that made this whole thing come together was that the flavor of carrot juice could work as a bridge between the gourd vessel and the other flavors in the drink, provided that they mixed well with carrot.

The Gourd vessel itself was unexpectedly resilient. We were sure it was going to leak, but through artful placement of bamboo skewers, we managed to build a chalice that was thoroughly seaworthy. After that, the hardest part of making this drink was coming up with a suitable pun. Names that did not make the cut:

  • The Gourd, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • Oh My Gourd!
  • Gourd with the Wind
  • Here Today, Gourd Tomorrow
  • Gourd out of my Mind
  • Gourds and Ghoblins
  • Casper the Friendly Gourd

 
OK, I’m done. And I’m sorry.

Gourd Vibrations
2 oz Carrot Juice
1.5 oz Bourbon (Evan Williams)
.75 oz Campari
.5 oz Cinnamon Syrup
Dash of Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)
Shake over ice and double-strain into a chalice made out of a freaking gourd. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a sense of accomplishment.

As with many fresh juices, carrot juice has a mild flavor, easily overpowered by the more robust qualities of common cocktail ingredients. I had to add a full two ounces before it could stand up to the bourbon and cinnamon syrup. The quantity of Campari in this was also counter-intuitive, but when you are creating a cocktail, the rule is add a little bit, taste, add a little bit, taste. It’s a process that won’t always take you to the place you expect.

Bottoms Up!


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La Vida Buena: A Mezcal Negroni

A few weeks ago I was at the Rob Roy, in Seattle, celebrating a friend’s birthday. The men’s room at Rob Roy is covered in graffitti, like pretty much any men’s room at any bar, only the scribblings at Rob Roy aren’t just of random profanity. They’re cocktail recepies. Yes dear readers, it just so happens that today’s drink came to me in a public bathroom. But, hey, sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places.

La Vida Beuna
1.5 oz Mezcal
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz Campari

Pour all components into a mixing glass over ice and stir. Strain drink into a cocktail glass over a nice, fresh ice chunk. Garnish with a blood orange peel.

It has become popular recently to templatize the negroni. The classic negroni is an equal parts drink made of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Although this ratio tastes fine, it isn’t my favorite. I find that the texture of an equal parts negroni is overwhelmingly syrupy because of the amount of Campai used. Also, I find that in this ratio the Campari’s bitterness overpowers the gin and vermouth. These days it seems to be more popular to use a 3:2:1 template, which does a great job of addressing these two critiques. In this version we used 6:3:1 because the original recipe I saw in the bathroom at Rob Roy called for Aperol, not Campari. Some handy advice: you can substitute Campari for Aperol and get away with it as long as you use half as much Campari.

La Vida Buena is a mezcal version of the old, classic drink. Personally, I prefer the smoky taste of mezcal in a negroni over gin, as I enjoy the additional layer of complexity it brings to the glass. I also simply love mezcal, and pretty much anything that has mezcal in it. The aroma from the blood orange peel lends the sip a subtle tartness that plays well with vermouth, and foreshadows the bitters from the Campari, which linger after the swallow.

Cheers!


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Canon

The other day I popped into Canon for a night cap, and I asked the bartender for a drink with Fernet as the base. The drink he made was well-executed, and contained Fernet Branca, Cynar, and Campari, stirred and poured over ice, and garnished with an orange peel. It was a sipper, and a good one. For those who care, Canon is a collaboration between Jamie Boudreau and Murray Stenson, and the link on Mr. Stenson’s name there is a way more in-depth article about the Canon than I want to write, and probably also way more in depth than anyone cares to read.

The bar itself is beautiful, with one of the finest liquor collections I have ever beheld. Some may find it a bit pretentious — certainly the place is high concept. In the bathroom, an old-timey radio recording plays, consisting of far-away sounding snippets of conversation. The menu is also a bit on the snooty side, but they also made the extremely un-snooty to post it online. It contains several very intriguing flight, though I would steer clear of the rum flight. Neither Flor de Cana nor Appleton Estate is great sipper, at least in my opinion. Obviously they beg to differ?

If you could not guess, I like my bars a bit on the snooty side, so I feel right at home, sipping on bitters and watching experts make expert drinks. If you are from out of town, and visit only one bar in Seattle, I highly suggest that you make it the Canon. The biggest drawback is that on a Friday or Saturday, the place is so packed that you cannot enjoy your drink comfortably. If you are from Seattle and you have the luxury, you will have a far better experience on a Sunday or a Tuesday.

The drinks are executed to technical perfection, and are quite creative. The Smoking Monkey is a combination of banana-infused Jameson, sherry, and Ardbeg Scotch whiskey. They have an aged sparkling cocktail with rum, yvette, and lemon. I once made a rum, lavender, lemon drink and although I did not nail the preparation, I thought the flavor combination was excellent, and I am pleased to see a similar one in a world class bar. They have a punch that I have not tried, but it sounds brilliant, consisting of rums, cognac, citrus, champagne, and muscovado sugar. Muscovado sugar seems to be a bit of a food trend lately, and it’s one that I whole-heartedly endorse.

Here is a picture of my drink from that night, albeit a bad one. Bars are terrible places to take photos, though many young women seem to disagree.

Canon Bartender’s Choice with Fernet as base
1.5 oz Fernet Branca
.75 oz Cynar
1 Tsp of Campari
Stir slightly longer and then strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a fat orange peel, oils fully expressed.

It’s possible that I’m over on the Cynar by a quarter of an ounce, but I made the drink a bit differently from the recipe here, and these are my thoughts as to a closer approximation. I tried to reproduce this drink in my home after carefully watching the bartender make it, but I did not prepare it as well as they did. Campari and Cynar are both on the syrupy side, and even Fernet is relatively viscous, as a spirit. When making a drink like this, it is necessary to dilute it a little bit beyond the level of a gin or whiskey drink. Otherwise, the texture will be too thick, and the drink will be unpleasant upon the palate. It’s a clever drink, though it is not for everyone, and

Yesterday it occurred to me that I have never actually explained how to express the oils in a citrus peel. After cutting it, gently squeeze it over the surface of the drink, making a fold with a slightly acute angle. Do this at several locations across the orange before twisting or folding it, and then run the peel around the inside of the glass before dropping it into the drink. But you probably already knew that, I think most people do.


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Guide to Amaro

 

 

I have been working on making my own bitters, but that project is far from ready. In the mean time, I decided to write a post discussing various amari (singular: amaro. Incidentally, the title of this post ought to be “Guide to Amari”, but we all know no one is going to search for that. It’s all about dat traffic), their characteristics, and their uses. When I first became interested in craft mixology, I noticed that a lot of the recipes I found on the internet called for liqueurs with Italian names, and I had never heard of any of them, and I didn’t know anything about their flavors. Lately, as I browse around various cocktail blogs, the big shots know how to handle them, but most people mixing drinks at home are really uninformed, so I broke out all the amari in my home bar, and tasted them all again, just for you.

Most of these spirits fit a similar flavor profile. The flavors words that I am using to describe them capture a degree of variation roughly on the same level as wine. First and foremost, all of these taste like amaro, except for Campari and Fernet, which are more distinctive. and I’m not even sure if Campari counts. All Amari are liqueurs, meaning that they have a substantial quantity of sugar, but they also have a strong bitter note on the finish. Bitter flavors provide the bass line for your drink, and a slug of amaro is often a great way to achieve that. Especially when making aromatic cocktails, they are great for layering complexity on top of a base spirit, or for lending a touch of the exotic. Once in a while, you can even find one in a tiki drink.

On the whole, they have strong herbal flavors, and are generally drunk in Italy as a digestivo, though Campari and Cynar are more popular as an aperitivo. And indeed, after eating a steak or a burger, there is nothing better to calm the stomach and aid the digestion than a glass of Ramazotti or Fernet Branca, on the rocks. In fact, I’m going to have one right now. Just a moment…

Ah, nothing makes a finer night cap. I find that most of these spirits are great on their own. You do not have to mix them into cocktails to enjoy them, but at the same time they are another dimension to play with when making your drinks, and quite an enjoyable one.

First up is Campari, which is a scintillant red color, and that selfsame color is perfectly artificial, I assure you. In the past, someone told me that it is flavored with rhubarb, but I am unable to detect any Since I’ve been making my own bitters, I have had occasion to smell and taste the flavors of a number of common bittering agents, and I can now observe that almost all of the flavor in this liqueur come from Cinchona bark, though it does have a hint of orange flavor. I don’t think it technically counts as an amaro, but it’s still a bitter Italian liqueur, and if you don’t like it on this list, you can write your own blog post about it. I consider Campari to be an essential element of any home bar, as it is a critical ingredient in the Negroni, one of the pillars of classic cocktailia.

Bitterness – 7/10. Proof: 34 Pictured: Rojo Bianco See also: The Italian 50

Next up is Averna, which is dark brown, almost black. According to the internet, it has a citrus flavor, but when I drink it, I primarily taste the flavor of burned caramel. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Averna — it’s not quite as bitter as I would like, and it lacks the complexity that I really look for in an Amaro. It’s quite drinkable, and CVS has some fun ideas for what to do with it, but it’s definitely on my B list. I don’t suggest it unless you already have a decent collection, and you’re trying to round it out.

Bitterness: 5/10. Proof: 58.  Pictured: Caramel Apple Charged Punch (Probably the worst photo on my blog)

Amaro Ciociaro is perfectly black. I’m sorry to say, I don’t have any drinks with this one yet, but I will soon. In contrast to Averna, I think this one is great, and one of the first that I would purchase when stocking a bar, right after Campari, Fernet, and Ramazotti. It has an excellent bitterness and a spicy complexity reminiscent of raisins, plums, and winter spices. That said, you could probably substitute Ramazotti for it in most drinks, so it might be a little bit redundant.

Bitterness: 6/10. Proof: 60.  Since I don’t have a drink for this one, it’s probably a good time to mention my generic recipe for an Amaro Sour, based on Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour. The great part is, it will look pretty much exactly like the Amaretto sour, so here’s that picture, to jog your memory.

Amaro Sour
1.5 oz Amaro
.75 oz Cask-strength Bourbon
1 oz lemon juice
(optional) 1 tsp. 2:1 simple syrup
.5 oz egg white, beaten

It’s important to note that some amari are much sweeter than others, and some are much bitterer, so it’s important to taste the drink before you add any simple syrup, and then adjust it accordingly. Fernet, for example, will probably call for a quarter ounce, perhaps even a half ounce of syrup, whereas Amaro Nonino is so sweet that you probably won’t want any.

Moving right along, Amaro Montenegro, much like Ciociaro, is midnight black. It’s probably the sweetest of the bunch, with a citrus flavor that’s almost bubblegummy. I’m pretty sure it’s bittered with wormwood, primarily, and it has a nice sprucey, piney sort of flavor, similar to an IPA. If you are in the mood for an IPA-based cocktail, I think this would probably be the one to try first. When I last visited the Zig Zag Cafe, they served me a Pimm’s cup with Montenegro, and the combination elevated both spirits significantly. My Italian friend Gualtiero said that in Italy, they play advertisements for this spirit on primetime television, and he said he viewed it in much the same way that I probably view a spirit like Jack Daniel’s. Fortunately, as an American, I can enjoy it free of this perception.

Bitterness: 4/10. Proof: 46.

And speaking my friend Gualtiero, he was kind enough to bring me a bottle of Amaro al Tartufo, which is made in Umbria, where he is from. It is thoroughly black, and tastes very different from the other amari in my collection. It has a clean citrus taste on the sip, and then a lingering, earthy truffle finish. I’ve never had anything like it, but then, I’ve never taken an amaro tour of Italy. I think I feel a vacation plan coming on. Generally speaking, I have no desire to mix this into a cocktail, as the truffle flavor is delicate and easily squashed. Then again, it was wonderful when I mixed it with fresh, sweet tomato juice.

Bitterness: 4/10. Proof: 60. Pictured: Mary, Truffle Hunter

Amaro Nonino is malty brown, for a change, and very light and sweet. When I tasted it for this post, I was surprised to find that it was bitterer than I remembered, but still nothing to write home about. Friedrich Nietzche wrote, “When one has properly trained ones conscience, it kisses you as it bites you.” In an amaro, I prefer and inversion of this; I want it to bite me as it kisses. Unfortunately, Nonino lacks bite, making it much better as a mixer than on its own. It has a hint of vanilla in it, and it’s it’s as close to rum as an amaro gets, which isn’t terribly close, but hopefully it gives you some idea of the flavor. As I discovered when I made the above drink, it pairs swimmingly with Mezcal. My only complaint is that it contains a noticeable amount of caramel coloring, and I feel that it leaves a film in your mouth, much like Coca Cola. On that note, it would probably be great with Coke.

Bitterness: 4/10. Bittering agent: Wormwood. Pictured: Des Esseintes

Ramazotti is black, and probably my favorite amaro that isn’t Fernet. It has a blood orange flavor, and tastes almost like a not-sweet version of Gran Marnier. I am pretty sure it’s bittered with gentian root, the same agent used to make Angostura bitters. When I first tried it, I thought, “this is sweet and tastes like oranges. I wonder how it would be in a margarita?” The answer, my friends, is: terrible. Ramazotti is not nearly as sweet as triple sec, and the herbal flavors in the the liqueur really muddied the flavor of the fresh lime juice. Don’t do it. Do try adding a quarter ounce of it to your Manhattan; it’s simply divine. This is a must-have for your home bar.

Bitterness: 5/10.  Proof: 60.  Pictured: Chocolate Cochon. Not a great cocktail to showcase Ramazotti, but it will have to do.

Cynar is black, and substantially different from most of the Amari described herein. Of all the spirits I have described in this post, I would compare it most to Campari, though it is perhaps a bit milder, and has a definite vegetal funk. The aroma is not distinctly artichokey, but on the sip it comes through loud and clear. As with Campari, the bittering agent is definitely Cinchona bark. I highly suggest substituting Cynar for Campari in a Negroni or a Spritz. This is not a must-have, but it is a highly recommended.

Bitterness: 6/10. Proof: 34. Pictured: Arts District. See also: Dirt ‘n’ DieselLibretto

Cardamaro is light brown, and technically a fortified wine, whereas all of the other spirits here are aged infusions and/or distillates. It’s less bitter even than Carpano Antica, which is a sweet vermouth, to give you some idea. It is assertively herbal, however, and can be used just like vermouth or sherry in a mixed drink. It’s a great way to add some variety to your fortified wine game, and I love it, but it certainly doesn’t bring much bitterness to the table.  Before I tried it, I was hoping it was flavored with cardamom, but it turns out it is flavored with cardoon, which is similar to an artichoke. Since this is a wine, you’ll want to store it in the fridge after you open it.

Bitterness: 1/10. Proof: 34. Pictured: Memories of Fall

Rhabarbaro Zucca is black. I think it is bittered with both Wormwood and Cinchona bark, but it’s hard to tell with this one. Ostensibly it is a rhubarb-flavored amaro, and I don’t doubt that there is rhubarb in it, but the flavor of it is minimal. There is some sweetness on the sip that reminds me of rhubarb jam, but it’s faint enough that it could just be the power of suggestion. Sadly, this one goes on the B list along with Averna. You could substitute Ciociaro, Ramazotti, or even Cynar for it, and you would probably like the resulting drink more, in most cases. I will not buy it again.

Bitterness: 6/10. Proof: 32.

Rounding off the list is Fernet Branca, and if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you already know how much I like this. Buy it twice. It is minty, bitter, and not sweet at all. I can tell you that it is almost certainly bittered with Angelica root, but I do not know if that is the only bittering agent. I suggest putting it in everything. Mix it with whiskey. Mix it with gin. Mix it with pineapple juice. On the weekend, mix it with the milk in your breakfast cereal. Mmmm, the breakfast of champions.

Bitterness: 7/10. Proof: 80. Pictured: Bartender on Acid

 


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The Italian 50

I have a long-standing aversion to champagne cocktails, mostly on the basis that I think it looks unmanly to hold one at a bar. The only glass more feminine than a champagne flute is a hurricane, but both are OK in the proper context. If you are sitting on the beach at a resort, a hurricane glass full of coconut cream and rum, or even a bit of blue curaçao is probably ok, but if you order something like that in a bar on a Saturday night, I will probably make fun of you.

Anyway, In Northern Italy, the most popular aperitif is a drink called Spritz, and when my friend Gualtiero came by with a bottle of Prosecco, I knew it was time to make a drink in that vein. The classic Spritz recipe is delicious, but it’s a little too light for my tastes, and it goes a little something like this:

Spritz
1 oz Campari, Aperol, or Cynar
1 oz Prosecco
1 oz Sparkling Mineral Water

Combine in a glass and garnish with an orange wheel.

It goes without saying that your prosecco, mineral water, and ideally, your bitter liqueur will all be chilled before-hand. I like this recipe, but I’m usually in the mood for something a little stronger, so I crossed a Spritz with a French 75, and came up with The Italian 50:

The Italian 50
1 oz Dry Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Campari
3 oz Prosecco

Briefly stir gin and Campari together, and strain into a champagne flute. Top with 3 oz Prosecco and garnish with an orange wedge.

This was shockingly delicious, but I think it would have been just as good, and more appropriate to its name, if it had been made with Grappa instead of Gin. Alas, I do not have any Grappa, and I did not want to use Pisco, even though it’s a close approximation than gin. So the 50 in this comes from the fact that it is a 2/3 Italian 75, which multiplies out to be the Italian 50. Next time I’ll get some Grappa, and we’ll get all the way to 75.

The French 75 is essentially a Tom Collins with Champagne instead of sparkling water, meaning it makes use of lemon juice for its bracing quality. In the Italian 50, I am using Campari for this purpose instead, changing the drink from a sour drink to an aromatic one. In any case, the biggest win here is inherited from the spritz, which highlights the orange notes in Campari with a wedge of fresh orange. The aroma of orange when drinking this drink creates a decadent synergy with the Campari.

You could use Cynar instead of Campari, and if you do that, then I suggest a wedge of lemon, which is much more suited to Cynar than orange.