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Tequila and Campari—The Amargo Cocktail

The Amargo Cocktail (detail), photo © 2010 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

Our holiday travels took us through Madison WI this week, which gave us a a chance to dine again at Harvest. The restaurant has a small and elegant bar, with a cocktail list that matches the kitchen’s reputation for interesting flavors and careful presentation.  The house cocktails are all designed by proprietor Tami Lax; some are new inventions, some personalized expressions of the classics.

This time I sampled the Amargo Cocktail, one of Lax’s originals. Given its name, it is not surprising that this is a Campari and tequila drink, with a heady dose of citrus to top it up.

Amargo Cocktail, Waterford Lismore glass, photo copyright © 2010 Douglas Ford. All rights reserved.

Tequila and Campari—the Amargo Cocktail

Harvest makes this drink with Corralejo Blanco tequila. The Corralejo seems to be unavailable in my region right now, so I used El Tesoro Platinum, which substitutes very nicely. I haven’t tried this recipe with aged tequila, but I suspect that the young blancos are the proper choice for this drink.

The Amargo Cocktail
(Tami Lax, Harvest Restaurant, Madison WI)

  • 1 oz. Tequila (El Tesoro Platinum)
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • ½ oz. fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice

Combine ingredients and shake with ice until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express and garnish with lime.

The hefty dose of Campari assures a delightful pale red color. The nose is lime from the garnish.

As for the flavor, Harvest’s version is all about lightly smoky tequila and Campari, with the citrus taking a very quiet ride in the back seat. The version I make with El Tesoro lets the lime come forward more prominently; perhaps it’s the tequila, perhaps it’s the limes themselves that make the difference. I like the drink either way, but I prefer the more Campari-and-tequila-forward version, so with the fairly pungent limes I have available currently, I’m cutting back the lime portion a little, closer to a quarter ounce.

12 Responses to “Tequila and Campari—The Amargo Cocktail”

  1. Tiare

    This cocktail looks really tasty both in recipe and picture. I`m a huge fan of Campari so of course i`m gonna make this!

    • Doug Ford

      Yeah, this one did some serious harm to my tequila and Campari supply over New Years. And I had sort of gotten away from grapefruit juice, so it was fun to reintroduce it to the repertoire.

  2. Tiare

    I really like grapefruit juice and with both tequila and campari its just made for and its fresh!

    • Doug Ford

      Of course, those of us who take statins to control cholesterol have a deprecation against grapefruit juice. Two ounces (or four, or six) probably doesn’t matter–I think you have to drink a gallon (or five) of the stuff to cause a reaction–but still it nags at you a little, that this may not be the best thing…

      It’s interesting to ponder where the real danger lies.

  3. Arctic Wolf

    This looks so good that I decided to try and make one today. Trouble is that Campari just wasn’t in my cabinet, and I’m not too sure I would find it at the local liquor store. So… I used Angostura bitters, only about 1/4 as much. Things didn’t turn out well, (Herra Dura Repassado) was the tequila I used.

    As I said, things kind of went badly, I think the Herra Dura was maybe too earthy and maybe Angostura Bitters was a poor substitute. Maybe my Herencia Tequila will work better for the next go round. Any suggestions for a Campari substitute. (I’m thinking maybe Vermouth and bitters)

    • Doug Ford

      That’s a tough one. I don’t know of anything that can properly substitute for Campari.

      I’ve seen a couple references to using Gran Classico amaro, but I’ve never even seen that product and I have no idea if it’s a flavor analog; besides, I’d guess that if your retailer doesn’t carry the ubiquitous Campari, you won’t see Gran Classico either.

      Which gets us back to do-it-yourself Campari substitutes. It’s interesting to consider that there might be a way to combine other off-the-shelf products, but I suspect it would always be a mixture of some other amaro or amaros, plus some combination of common bitters, but then you’re having to stock products that may be even harder to come by than Campari, and still not getting the gorgeous color, nor the intended alpha dog flavor that seems to combine so delightfully with tequila in this drink.

      It’s an interesting challenge. If you figure it out, I’d love to know the answer. If we’re lucky, someone will add some good starting ideas here.

  4. Arctic Wolf

    I ended up using 7/8 oz Dry Vermouth and 1/8 ounce of Angostura Bitters. The resulting cocktail was actually quite nice, but it probably was not close in flavour to yours. It was however nice enough that I served it to a couple of friends, who turned their noses up at it as soon as they spied the Tequila bottle on my counter (Herencia de Plata Reposado this time). Oh well!

    I will search out some Campari and do some further testing.

    • Doug Ford

      I can’t wait to try your substitution to see what it’s like. It’s a very clever substitution, and it’s fun to know that it makes a good drink.

      Alas! for your friends’ experience with tequila; perhaps another day, when their history is richer.

    • Doug Ford

      I can believe that the 1:1 proportions would work—a slight adjustment from the 5:4 in Lax’s original. As Gary Regan says, nothing is written in stone…

  5. Kevin Hennenhoefer

    What an incredibly balanced and refreshing drink! I was very dubious about mixing grapefruit juice with Campari. I was certain it would be too bitter for me, but the tequila added just enough sweetness to make it perfect. Thanks!


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