Beer and Campari? Somehow it works

Lisa Futterman
Chicago Tribune

If you’ve watched Season 1 of Netflix’s current iteration of “Queer Eye,” you know all about the hillbilly margarita, a bastardization of the classic tequila cocktail that features good old Mountain Dew as the mixer. As a person who happily imbibes tequila and Squirt (the Mexican version, made with cane sugar) on the regular, I didn’t really bat an eye. But I got really curious about such questionably named cocktails when I overheard my friends ordering a Spaghett. The bartender took a rocks glass, poured the contents of the neck of a Miller High Life into it, and replaced that volume of beer with Campari.

The resulting hot pink drink looks appealing and tastes remarkably, well, delightful, especially to us Negroni lovers at the bar. I started asking around about this oddball drink with a name that’s reminiscent of the “Sopranos.” My (younger, cooler) Facebook friends chimed in with “oh, yeah that’s called a hobo Negroni, been drinking them as shifties for years.” The Spaghett, apparently, is frequently made with Aperol, another Italian bitter aperitivo similar to Campari, and a dash of fresh lemon juice to resemble a sort of low-rent spritz. The name also refers to a marinara-stained character, Spagett, from the “Tim and Eric Awesome Show” on Adult Swim.

To get to the bottom of the Spaghett story, I knew I had to ask an expert. Mike Simmons, chef/owner of Cafe Marie-Jeanne in Chicago and all-around bon vivant, has been enjoying variations of the Spaghett for a couple of years, ever since he saw picon biere, a classic mix of pilsner and Amer Picon orange bitter on a drink menu. Simmons decided that any variation of the traditional French cooler could be fair game, and started experimenting with different aperitivos splashed in his beer bottle. (He particularly enjoys Cocchi Rosa or Cap Corse Quinquina in the mix).

“The Spaghett works because High Life has a really creamy texture for a cheap beer, plus a real wheat quality and the bitterness from the hops, and Campari is ultra crimson and extra bitter so it ends up super refreshing,” he says.

As for ordering it in a bar, says Simmons, “I’ll scan the back bar and if I see a good bitter aperitivo, I’ll order it in my beer. Usually I get a double take, then a nod of approval from the bartender for my off beverage choice.”

Try one the next time your beer drinking routine needs a pick-me-up. Your order may raise an eyebrow, but sometimes a spiked beer is just the thing.