Americans. We may love to drink, but we are not big on big assertive flavors. If you go into a coffee shop and order an Americano, you will get an espresso topped with hot water, essentially turning it into a cup of coffee. Head into a bar, and you will get Campari and vermouth topped with club soda, with either a orange twist or slice. Europeans typically enjoy their digestifs and aperitifs neat, as a way to stimulate appetite or digestion. They are very herbal, usually on the dry or bitter side. We drink them with a little club soda to make them a spritzer and take a little of the edge off. It tempers the overly assertive flavors by adding some carbonation and water.
In the early 1900's, as the specter of Prohibition was looming, people were heading to Europe in droves. The drinking culture there is very different, and the Americans were still adapting to it. In Italy, they had found a drink they could work with. It was originally known as the Milano-Torino, since the Campari came from Milan and vermouth was developed in Turin. It was topped off with club soda and garnished with orange for the Americans, and thus the Americano was born. In all fairness, the Italians also enjoyed this new, refreshing concoction. The Americano falls into this classic phase of exploration because it is the precursor to another cocktail, the Negroni.
You will see the Negroni on many menus in cocktail bars and fine restaurants. The Americano will be much harder to find, since the Negroni far exceeds it in popularity. These bars also have started to substitute sparkling water for soda water to remove some of the salty taste that soda imparts into the cocktail. Of course, every bar you can get a Negroni in you can get an Americano it. You may just have to use this as a cheat sheet.
1 oz./30 mL Campari
1 oz./30 mL sweet vermouth
Glass: Old Fashioned
Garnish: Orange Slice or Twist
Build the cocktail over ice and stir gently, just enough to mix the ingredients. Garnish with the orange slice or twist.
It is damn refreshing. The bitters and vermouth balance each other nicely, with the sweetness rolling over my tongue first, then the bitter flavors of the Campari. I can see why bartenders use sparkling water. I am not a fan of the flavor soda water imparts. And the orange just adds a little extra. Of course, I am a bigger fan of the Negroni, but that is another discussion for another day.