The real difference between Aperol and Campari

The tradition of stimulating the appetite via an aperitivo, or light alcoholic beverage, has centuries-old roots in Italy and remains a cornerstone of the culture today. According to Walks of Italy, its modern version may stretch back to 1786, when a vermouth distiller advocated his concoction before meals (hence the term aperitivo, which has roots in the Latin word for "opener").

Over the years, Italian alcohol inventors attempted to launch successors to the pre-meal drink throne. Milan-based Gaspari Campari introduced his eponymous bitter liqueur in 1860, followed decades later by brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri, who created Aperol in Padua in 1919 (via Food & Wine).

Fast-forward to 2003, and the Campari Group announced its acquisition of Aperol, bringing both under the same company umbrella. Smart move — like Campari, Aperol was showing steady growth in popularity as an established alcohol icon. And, in addition to being a key ingredient in the summertime-staple Aperol Spritz, its lower alcohol content allows for delicious straight sipping.

Today, the two brands are often confused or substituted for each other, as they share several key traits: vibrant hues, Italian origin, and flavors that blend both bitter and sweet (via MasterClass). But don't be fooled — there are distinct differences between them.

Battle of the bitters: Aperol vs. Campari

In terms of color, Campari reflects a rich red hue that historically was created with the help of cochineal insects (a practice that was halted in 2006 in favor of artificial color), while Aperol sports a vivid orange shade (via Tasting Table). Their tastes are different, too: Aperol combines the flavors of rhubarb, bitter herbs, and burnt orange, while Campari offers undertones of cherry, clove, rhubarb, cascarilla, cinnamon, and orange peel. Aperol is sweeter than Campari, which packs more intense bitterness.

Food & Wine adds that the contrasts continue when examining alcohol content, with Aperol clocking in at 11 percent (15 percent in Germany) and Campari containing 20.5 to 28.5 percent, depending on the country where it's sold. Accordingly, Aperol tends to feature in lighter drinks, including the refreshing Aperol Spritz, while the amplified ABV and flavor of Campari is a quintessential component of cocktails like the Negroni (via VinePair).

Though these Italian classics were once lesser-known in the United States, The Drinks Business reports that both have been gaining traction, with 2018 marking double-digit growth percentages for Campari and Aperol in the Americas. VinePair notes that Aperol remains the more popular choice — it's the Campari Group's No. 1 seller overall. But these two bitter liqueurs certainly boast enough differences to both deserve room on any serious mixologist's shelf.