Bitter is a contentious flavour, dividing people into two camps – the lovers and the haters. To justify their aversion, the haters will point to anthropology, arguing that bitterness is the sensory cue for poison, and so humans are biologically hard-wired to avoid it. They will say that scrunching our noses and spitting out something that’s bitter is a normal, natural survival mechanism that helps us stay alive.
Sorry, haters, but by that logic, I (and most of my relatives) would’ve croaked a long time ago.
Bitter foodstuffs are my kryptonite. It comes part and parcel with being mezza italiana. I’d be hard-pressed to imagine a world without rapini, raddichio, dandelion greens, or chicory; grapefruit, lemon peel, licorice, or chinotto, espresso, and quinine. To me, and a lot of people out there, these things are just totally exquisite. Euphoric, even. The first sip of an IPA is enough to send me into a blissful trance. And don’t even get me started on marmalades, or we’ll be here all day.
Another one of my favourites in the world of bitter things – especially on a hot, blistering day like today – is that ruby-red elixir, Campari. I happen to know a lot of people that think Campari is completely revolting – specifically, “supertasters“, anthropology nerds (see 1st paragraph) and those who have made the ill-fated decision to knock back several glasses at a party – straight, no chaser – only to suffer the consequences of Campari sans modération. If that did happen to you, I don’t expect you to fall in love with Campari. But I also suspect that there are a lot of you out there who don’t drink it basically because you don’t know what to do with it. If that’s the case, I’d like to introduce you to the cocktail below.
This drink strikes the balance between bitter and sweet and is enjoyed undiluted (i.e. without watery or fizzy things added). The name comes from a former paramour who, despite being initially confused by my obsession with bitter drinks, came to cultivate a fondness for them too. The cocktail was improvised on a day we wanted to make Negronis, but were out of gin. He baptised it “La Stronza” and, well, the name sort of stuck. It’s a cross between a traditional Negroni and an Americano, the difference being that you nix the club soda and you switch the gin for some dry vermouth. Served on ice, it’s one of the best ways to quench mid-summer heat AND get your bitterness fix.
La Stronza – serves one
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz sweet (red) vermouth
- 1 oz dry (white) vermouth
- 1 orange peel twist
- dash of orange bitters (optional)
- ice cubes
Prep an Old-Fashioned (lowball) glass with ice cubes. In a chilled cocktail shaker or pint glass, stir together the sweet, dry vermouth and Campari until well combined. Pour over ice and garnish with orange twist.
“arguing that since bitterness is the sensory cue for poison, humans are hard-wired to avoid it.” No, CHILDREN are hard wired to avoid it. If hunter and gatherers didn’t wean the kiddies off sweets, they’d have all died out long ago. Part of growing up is widening your taste.