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How to Make the Low-ABV Campari Cocktail – Robb Report

The Rome with a View is an underdog story. It shouldn’t really work, but it does. And it really shouldn’t be popular, but it is. It’s a lucky drink. This is what happens when everything gets out of your way.

The Rome with a View was invented by Michael McIllroy at Milk & Honey in New York City in 2008. Milk & Honey was one of the first neo-speakeasies of the modern age, specializing in classic cocktails and their subtle twists. The Rome with a View is one of them – essentially a Tom Collins, but with Campari and dry vermouth instead of gin and lime instead of lemon. Importantly, Milk & Honey didn’t have a printed cocktail menu either. Instead, you chatted with the bartender about what you liked and were interested in, and the bartender combed through his or her mental rolodex to create something bespoke for you.

If you’ve never heard of Campari and dry vermouth being the base of a cocktail, that’s because nobody else has; If you saw the drink on a menu, you would read the ingredients three times to figure out what it’s made of. Not only is this base a unique and somewhat bizarre choice, but it pushes the Rome with a glimpse into the doomed uncanny valley of low ABV cocktails, the kind of drinks that trend writers have been touting as the “next big thing” every year since 2014, but never seems to catch on with the general public.

There are a few recurring problems with low-alcohol cocktails, and Rome with a View solves them all. First, they tend to be thin and flat – not so when Campari is part of the base, which bitterness provides a satisfying depth. They also tend to be unattractive, or at least sound unattractive. Dry vermouth doesn’t have many champions, and sherry remains a niche among the under-80s. Would the Rome with a View have been as successful if it had been printed on a cocktail menu? Almost certainly not. Many, if not most, people will avoid the low-proof portion of a drink menu as much as they would the low-calorie portion of a fast-food menu. For most people, that’s just not why you’re here.

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But what if you don’t have a menu? What if your entire business model was to ask your guests to trust you and give them something so delicious they didn’t care what it was made of? If so, you’d discover that the Rome with a View is a delightful and delightfully flavorful little cooler – the vermouth offers herbaceous and floral top notes that complement the Campari’s deep, robust bitterness, the tart-rimmed citrus make it refreshing and that Soda water expands everything, creating space between flavors to better appreciate the complexity. It’s a plain drink that doesn’t taste plain, a low-alcohol drink that doesn’t taste low-alcohol, a bitter drink that’s not overly bitter. Try it and see.

Table of Contents

Rome with a view

  • 1 ounce. Campari
  • 1 ounce. dry vermouth
  • 1 ounce. lime juice
  • 0.75 oz. simple syrup
  • 2-3 ounces. Mineral water

Place all ingredients except soda water in a cocktail shaker and shake on ice for 10 seconds. Strain into a tall glass over fresh ice and top up with 2 to 3 ounces of soda water. Garnish with an orange slice or peel.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS

Campari

Jason O’Bryan

Campari: If you don’t like the bitterness at all, you can try Aperol, which is much less bitter and with which this cocktail still tastes good. Note, however, that without Campari’s pounding bitter base drum, it starts to suffer from the aforementioned thinness.

Dry vermouth: I think McIllroy used Dolin, which is my go-to place for anything dry vermouth. I wouldn’t go any slimmer – Martini & Rossi or Noilly Prat are too soft, and you want something with a bit of personality. But be braver: Mancini Secco is fantastic here, as is the new Cocchi Extra Dry.

Lime Lemon: This drink clearly contains lime juice, and some people will take credit for the malty tart finish of lime (as opposed to lemon) being important to the enjoyment of this drink. I respectfully disagree. I reprinted the lime thing above because that’s how it was invented and I really like it with lime, but when I make them for myself I use lemon juice, which leaves Campari’s bitter finish untainted with a tart citrus finish. However, not everything is so important. Use what you have.

Simple Syrup: Literally the easiest syrup. Add equal parts sugar and water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Store in the fridge.

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