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Low-alcohol Campari cocktails perfect for lazy days on the dock

With a practically day-glow red hue, Campari is easily the most well-recognizable aperitif, a sub-category of liqueurs that are lower in both alcohol and sugar than the traditional after-dinner liqueurs.

It’s cottage season! Time to switch to light wines, crisp ciders and, of course, session beers—light beers made specifically for long, afternoons on the dock. Although slightly under the radar, “session cocktails” are a thing, too, and they’re easy to make. Just swap out a potent spirit and sub in a light, low-alcohol aperitif as a cocktail base and it’s easy to join in on the summer fun, without having to call it an early night.

Campari: A Taste Worth Acquiring

With a practically day-glow red hue, Campari is easily the most well-recognizable aperitif, a sub-category of liqueurs that are lower in both alcohol and sugar than the traditional after-dinner liqueurs. Made with orange, rhubarb, ginseng, tree bark and a proprietary blend of herbs and spices, Campari packs an intense, bittersweet taste that’s well worth taking the time to acquire. 

Start your acquaintance with your new best friend with a fun, bitter edge by trying it in a simple Campari soda or bring out its sweet side by mixing it into this Orange Passion cocktail:

Orange Passion

1 ¼ oz Campari

2 orange slices

1 tsp brown sugar

3 oz fresh orange juice

Place orange slices and brown sugar into tall glass and crush together with muddler. Add crushed ice, Campari, orange juice and stir. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

Aperol: The Gateway Aperitif

Some people think of Aperol as the “gateway” aperitif, since it’s way less bitter than most of the bitter tonics Europeans are found drinking from cinq-a-sept. Clocking in at a mere 11 per cent, Aperol is a kinder, gentler version of Campari—light, sweet and more orange than bitter. It also plays well with others and works in a range of classic cocktails, so you can use Aperol in place of, say, tequila for a novel twist on a margarita or in place of gin in a Tom Collins. It’s most famous, though, for how well it works in a spritz:

Aperol Spritz

3 parts cava

1 part Aperol

1 splash soda

Build in an ice-filled highball glass—Aperol first, then cava and, finally, soda. Top with a slice of orange.

Cynar: The Earthy Goodness

Even if you love artichokes, the thought of a liqueur made from them is probably going to sound bizarre, at least at first. But carciofo (artichoke aperitif) is a cherished, traditional product in Italy, where, on hot afternoons, people often simply add soda to it and slowly sip to stay cool. In Europe, there are several brands; here, there is only Cynar, an earthy, slightly bitter and entirely distinct aperitif that’s best enjoyed in a simple cocktail, such as this Cynar Julep.

Cynar Julep

2 oz Cynar

½ oz simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, cooled)

½ oz fresh lemon juice

½ oz fresh grapefruit juice

1 oz club soda

12 mint leaves

Crushed ice

1 sprig mint, for garnish

In a tall glass, gently muddle the mint with the syrup and lemon juice. Fill with ice, add Cynar and stir. Top up with grapefruit juice and add a dash of club soda. Garnish with the sprig of mint.

Pimm’s No. 1 Cup: The Summer Classic

No lawn party would be complete without the Pimm’s Cup, a staple summer favourite that can only be made with, well, Pimm’s No. 1 Cup. It, too, is considered a liqueur, since it’s a relatively light (25 per cent) pre-dinner spirit, made from gin that’s been sweetened and seasoned according to a secret recipe invented, almost 200 years ago, at James Pimm’s gin-and-oyster bar in London. Although it’s OK with soda, it’s at its very best when mixed with lemon/lime soda, cucumber, lemon and whatever fruit you happen to have on hand:

Pimm’s Cup

1 ½ oz Pimm’s No. 1 Cup

3 oz lemon-lime soda

1 orange slice,

1 lemon slice

1 cucumber slice

1 strawberry

1 sprig of mint


Fill a highball with ice, add Pimm’s and lemon/lime soda (ginger ale works, too). Garnish with fruit and mint. 

-by Christine Sismondo