When you ask a bartender like Ink.'s bar manager Gabriella Mlynarczyk what her go-to summer drink is, seven times out of ten you'll get an answer that's about staying in the game. Summer drinking is an endurance sport, after all, requiring stamina to get to sundown without collapsing in a heap on the passenger seat. Many of the best summer offerings allow the imbiber to sustain, to enjoy a more than one, with alcohol levels that keep the drinks equal parts delicious and non-taxing. That's probably why Mlynarczyk, when asked, gave a nod to the Americano — equal parts Campari and red Vermouth, with a splash and a half of soda — a lean, refreshing drink that bestows just enough punch, without the need to boot 'n' rally.
The Americano originates in Italy in the 19th century, in the bar of Gaspare Campari, whose eponymous liqueur served as a stone jaw to so many stiff uppercuts in a glass, most famously the Negroni. Americans, it's said, flocked to the drink — though the name probably originates as a variant of 'amaro' — Italian for bitter.
Campari the aperitif, on its own, is best known for its bitterness and its brilliant color, somewhere between firecracker red and actual fire. That bitterness is the result of blending as many as 80 botanicals, globally sourced, and kept a secret from all but the foragers.
There are many bitters on the shelves of the world's bars, but nothing is quite like Campari. You could say that its bitterness is in the treble register — unlike, say, coffee or unsweetened chocolate, it seems to strike the palate with an angular, high-toned force. That may account for why sweet vermouth is such a fine complement, because vermouth's flavors are more about bass and background, with its satisfying burnt-sugar sweetness and burnt-umber depth.
All of the classic sweet vermouth brands fit the bill here — Noilly Prat, Cinzano, Martini & Rossi — just make sure your vermouth isn't old, and oxidized. If you can find an artisanal bottling so much the better, like Dolin, Quady's Vya, or the remarkably complex Carpano Antica Formula, which is as it says is from an old formula, and is delicious.
Pour into an Old Fashioned glass, finish with slice of citrus and a bit of soda water to spritz it up — though Mlynarczyk likes to swap out soda with low-alcohol Prosecco when she's feeling a bit frisky, inasmuch as bartenders, drinking, are ever frisky.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Have a spirits question for a future column? Ask him. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.