Tiki Ingredient: Cappelletti Italian AperitivoR...

Tiki Ingredient: Cappelletti Italian Aperitivo… Wait, What?

Let’s finish up Tiki Month 2019 with a discussion of a liqueur that I have come, over the last two years, to consider an essential tool in the kit of any Tiki enthusiast: Cappelletti. What’s that? Why yes, there is absolutely no excuse for an Italian apertivo from the mountains of northern Italy to find a home in faux-Polynesian cocktails. But, since vitually nothing about Tiki drinks has its genesis in Polynesia, let’s just roll with it.

Cappelletti Vino Apertivo is a member of the school of red, bitter Italian liqueurs, along with much more well-known example like Aperol and of course Campari. Cappelletti clocks in around the mid range of booziness for the genre, at 17% ABV. It’s flavor profile is also similar to Campari’s, with elements of orange (and orange peel), “herbs” (Don the Beachcomber could have learned a good bit from the Italians about ingredient secrecy), and an underlying sweetness. Personally, I find Cappelletti to be both a little less sweet and a lot less bitter than Campari. It’s wine base smooths off some of the edges you get in a lot of Italian bitter apertivos. One or more of these elements imbues Cappelletti with a subtle nuttiness to my palate. Finally, Cappelletti is interesting in that it still gets its brilliant red coloring honestly… by mashing up a crap-ton of cochineal beetles and using them for dye. (Campari and many other apertivos used to use the same method, but stopped about a decade ago.)

I first started using Cappelletti last year, when working up my Red Tide cocktail. It was envisioned as a “Tiki Negroni”, and I initially used Campari. I can’t remember how I came into possession of a bottle, but when I swapped out the Campari for it, the change was an eye-opener. Cappelletti has three key advantages.

  1. It plays better with rum. It just does.
  2. It is just more laid back in character than Campari. Homey ain’t got time for something as autocratic as Campari when he be chillin’ in his aloha shirt.
  3. It has that indefinable character of many great Tiki ingredients: it is a chameleon. Elements at the front of its flavor profile recede, while others suddenly emerge when mixed with the rest of the Tiki toolkit.

By the bye, lest you labor under the impression that I just think Cappelletti is just a “better Campari” for all things, I do not. Cappelletti, for one example, makes a truly insipid Negroni. In the case of the “Tiki-compliant” Jungle Bird, making the substitution results in a drink that I feel is more tasty but less interesting. Call it a Jungle Cuckoo. If you don’t like the Jungle Bird, you might like the Cuckoo. If you do like the Bird, you might find the Cuckoo a good entry drug for friends. Your mileage may vary.

I’ll finish up this little musing with a recipe. My Storm Warning is a riff on (or perhaps a “fix of”) a Tiki drink called Foul Weather Friend by Modern Tiki, which is itself a riff on an old trader Vic recipe.


  • 1 1/2 oz. El Dorado 3
  • 1/2 oz. Smith & Cross
  • 3/4 oz. Licor 43
  • 1/2 oz. Cappelletti
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. orange juice
  • 1/4 oz. passion fruit syrup

Combine all ingredients with small ice and shake well. Serve in a hurricane glass and garnish with upturned paper umbrella and a straw. Give a few squirts from a misting bottle full of water over the head of the drinker upon serving.

The only change here from Nicole’s drink is the Cappelletti substitution (and the silly garnishing procedure). But it makes all the difference in the world. Foul Weather Friend is a Campari drink with Tiki influences. Storm Warning tastes like a bitterish Tiki drink. Next year, I’m laying in more Cappelletti, and working it into other places where Campari had not been in the first place. I anticipate success.

This post is dribbling into March, but since #TikiMonth is a state of mind, I’ve gone ahead and finished it up, rather than waiting until next year. Sue me.

Aloha, y’all!


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