Your New Favorite Classic: The Americano

September 12, 2013

When he's not busy running the cocktail program at New York City's Maialino, Erik Lombardo is giving us the rundown on all things spirits -- and showing us the best ways to drink them.

Today: A -- dare we say genius -- combination of 3 ingredients, and one of the simplest drinks you'll make this month.

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Cooking without drinking is like driving without listening to music: you’ll get from point A to point B, but you won’t necessarily enjoy the journey. There is something therapeutic about making a meal at home -- we compose a shopping list, do our prep, and for some, an integral part of this ritual is a drink. It may be a bottle of wine, something noncommittal and seasonally appropriate that can be re-corked and thrown in the fridge guilt-free. Others go the beer route. For those of you who have yet to settle on a clear favorite, may I humbly submit for your approval: the Americano.

The Americano was born in 1860 as the “Milano-Torino” in a bar called Caffé Campari. Its original name was a nod to the two main ingredients: Campari, which came from Milan, and Sweet Vermouth which came from Turin. The cocktail is incredibly simple, and is in fact only the slightest variation on having an aperitivo with a splash of soda. The genius comes in the way these two ingredients interact.

More: Another ingredient that plays well with Campari? Beer. 

Campari is a 24% alcohol-by-volume aperitivo that by itself is overwhelmingly bitter and about as pleasant as chewing on a grapefruit peel -- no one walks into a bar and asks for a shot of Campari. Sweet vermouth is an aromatized wine that is likewise seldom enjoyed on its own, as many people find it pleasant enough but uninteresting, something for old Italian men in Bensonhurst to drink while they play Bocce.

Combined in equal proportion, these two aperitivi achieve a level of synergy that is far more than the sum of its parts. The Campari adds depth and complexity to the vermouth, which in turn brings a touch of sweetness that accentuates the citrus and spice in the Campari. Finishing the cocktail with soda water completes the picture, giving us a lightly alcoholic, tall, fizzy and refreshing drink that can be enjoyed in modest quantity without worrying about becoming too intoxicated to remember to boil water for the pasta. 

The choice of sweet vermouth will change the cocktail dramatically. In the summer try it with Dolin Rouge, a light and elegant sweet vermouth from France. In the winter give Carpano Antica a chance -- the deep vanilla notes and slight smokiness will give surpising warmth to the cocktail. Cinzano (rumored to be the original) and Martini-Rossi are solid choices as well, just remember to always keep opened sweet vermouth refrigerated, because the reason you thought vermouth was gross in the first place was because the dusty bottle that was sitting on your parents liquor cabinet since 1983 went 1983. 


Serves one

1 1/2 ounces Campari
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
Top with club soda
Orange or lemon peel, for garnish

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

What classic cocktail recipe would you like to see here? Tell us in the comments! 

Photos by James Ransom 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Claire Suellentrop
    Claire Suellentrop
  • tradess2013
  • Chef Carlos
    Chef Carlos
  • paulita52
  • Amandadp
Erik Lombardo

Written by: Erik Lombardo


Claire S. September 15, 2013
"Cooking without drinking is like driving without listening to music: you’ll get from point A to point B, but you won’t necessarily enjoy the journey." That sentiment couldn't have been better said, Erik. I'm half-seriously planning to write that down and hang it up in my kitchen.
tradess2013 September 15, 2013
In Belgium, they actually sell something called Ganzia Americano, which was always my favorite bottle to buy....very reasonable to boot, but I'll will make this one tonight
Chef C. September 15, 2013
How about a riff on gin and tonics?
aet September 16, 2013
Try using kumquat and cloves, or grapefruit and basil instead of lime. In both cases, muddle the citrus slightly, add the ice, G & T, then garnish with the second ingredient. Kumquat and cloves in particular is my favorite.
paulita52 September 15, 2013
A good recipe for a B&B...... Benedictine and Brandy
Amandadp September 13, 2013
Oh how I love this! Often when I order it at a restaurant the wait staff will want to bring me a coffee. Now I always say 'an Americano cocktail'. Ha!
Erik L. September 13, 2013
I have had the exact same thing happen to me on more than one occassion, disambiguating with 'cocktail' is a good idea.
Stacy September 13, 2013
Had one of these for the first time at a friend's house the other weekend. As you say, we were cooking dinner and this was the perfect drink to sip while stirring a pot and chatting with delightful companions. Our host made his a Negroni, but since gin's not my thing, I was very happy with the Americano. Thanks for the measurements, that I might recreate it on my own.
walkie74 September 13, 2013're supposed to refrigerate sweet vermouth? Uh oh... *eyes the bottle that's been sitting in the cabinet for more than six months*
Erik L. September 12, 2013
Guy's, don't get me wrong, I'm in the Campari camp too. For those of you who are watching closely, I said no one walks into a bar and orders a SHOT of Campari... Campari on the rocks with a slice of orange or a Campari and soda are both wonderful things, ditto Carpano on the rocks with a lemon or orange twist. The key in all of these drinks is the dilutory effect of the water coming from the ice, and the aromatics coming from the citrus. Anyway, try the Americano, it's delicious.
Exbruxelles September 12, 2013
A Negroni without the gin, no?

I'm with the Campari-is-a-perfectly-good-thing-on-its-own crowd. A late summer afternoon after a lot of walking on cobblestones, a Campari on the rocks with a slice of orange. Tell me what's better.

Rivka September 12, 2013
I must be one of those old Italian men in Bensonhurst. Who doesn't love a good glass of Carpano Antica?
mrslarkin September 12, 2013
yup me too. Wanna play bocce?

Right now, I'm sipping on a Sanbitter on the rocks, twist of orange.
Kenzi W. September 13, 2013
Haha, amazing.
fayehess September 12, 2013
The drink sounds really good, but I have to speak out for us Campari drinkers. There are actually quite a few people, in Italy anyway, who order Campari straight, usually on ice.
Kenzi W. September 12, 2013
Fair enough! You should try this cocktail though -- it's magical.