The Bocce, A Blackberry Campari Cocktail

The colors of black and red in this blackberry Campari cocktail honor the Italian game of bocce. And you can drink it while playing!

As a man who bleeds Pitt Panthers blue and gold and who proudly saved his commemorative beer steins from the Steelers’ 1970s Super Bowl dynasties, I’m sure it was quite a disappointment to my father to have both his daughters basically come out of the womb with two left feet and hands.

So fearful were we of losing our precious, lens-assisted eyesight that we removed our nerd glasses to play Nerf football in the backyard.

Golf lessons? The humiliation of having so little strength that the instructor swung me along with the club while demonstrating how to get out of a sand trap still brings a burning flush to my cheeks.

blackberry campari cocktail inspired by the game of bocce
Photo: Casey Barber

Swimming? Never learned to dive until I was 21 years old. At least my sister had enough hand-eye coordination to play the piano.

But there was one sport that even a terribly klutzy, athletically challenged Barber girl could play.

The Italian game of bocce is almost too simple. Throw a small ball (the jack) onto the field so two teams can take turns rolling larger balls (the bocce) as close to it as possible, close enough to “kiss” with a soft clink.

Bocce is a homonym of baci, the Italian word for kiss. It’s the easy, breezy version of curling, for all you cool pants enthusiasts.

In our family, we don’t bother with most of the official rules—calling throws, setting exact boundaries, or marking bocce. We just throw the balls, see where they end up, and the team that gets nine points first wins.

blackberry campari cocktail inspired by the game of bocce
Photo: Casey Barber

Though official games are often played on gravel, sand or clay courts, our family’s bocce tradition has always worked perfectly in our long, rectangular backyard. The slight dips, bumps and ridges beneath the grass make the game challenging even for those who’ve been playing for decades.

It’s hard to figure out how I’m so good at bocce when the last time I went bowling without bumpers, I bowled an eight. An eight!!

But I partially attribute my skill to the authentic Italian bocce set passed down through the family to my all-thumbs hands.

The soothing weight of the bocce balls, the size that’s just right for my small paws to grip without straining, and the satisfying kiss of the bocce makes it a comfortable ritual rather than an athletic competition. I’m relaxed when I play, and maybe that’s why I don’t fail half as often.

blackberry campari cocktail inspired by the game of bocce
Photo: Casey Barber

Possibly the best part about bocce is because you only need one hand to throw the ball, and can use your feet to measure any disputed distances as well as nudge the bocce back to the line of play after each round, your other hand is free to hold a drink.

Usually a beer bottle or wine stem gets the place of honor in our summer games. But listening to the balls clack together, so reminiscent of ice in a glass, during our most recent bocce marathons on Cape Cod inspired me to create a cocktail in honor of the game.

Though most modern bocce sets come in the Italian flag colors of red and green with a white jack ball, my vintage set sports the old-school red and black.

blackberry campari cocktail inspired by the game of bocce
Photo: Casey Barber

So the following recipe blends the bitterness of the luminously red Italian liqueur Campari with an equally glowing but sweet blackberry syrup.

Make extra syrup if you’ve got berries to spare; it keeps in the fridge for impromptu single-serving cocktails or as a striking mix-in for lemonade, iced tea or seltzer.

I’m not promising that this blackberry Campari cocktail will improve your bocce game. Drinking the whole pitcher might have the opposite effect, in fact.

But if you do happen to win your next informal backyard tournament thanks to this pretty red tonic, don’t forget to send a kiss my way. It’s the proper Italian thing to do.

blackberry campari cocktail inspired by the game of bocce

The Bocce: A Blackberry Campari Cocktail

Yield: 8 drinks
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

The colors of black and red in this blackberry Campari cocktail honor the Italian game of bocce. And you can drink it while playing!


  • 6 ounces blackberries
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup Campari
  • 1 liter plain seltzer


  1. Reserve about 1/4 cup blackberries for garnish.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the remaining berries, sugar, and water over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally as the sugar dissolves and the berries soften.
  3. Pour the berries and syrup through a mesh strainer into a bowl; you should have approximately 1 1/2 cups syrup. Cool to room temperature.
  4. Fill a 2- to 3-quart pitcher with ice.
  5. Stir in the syrup, Campari, and seltzer.
  6. Float blackberries in the pitcher or each guest's glass, if desired.


Make the syrup up to 1 week in advance and refrigerated in a sealable jar until ready to mix and serve.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: .75 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 137Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 1gSugar: 22gProtein: 0g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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  1. We have been hooked on Campari, since drinking it in Italy on one of our numerous trips there. I believe we started drinking Campari and soda in the mid-nineties. Now, I have all of my friends hooked on Negroni’s.
    This new drink sounds great. We will try it very soon!!!

  2. Sounds wonderful…actually have a bocci court in my backyard..designed and constructed by my fsther…perfect drink to toast him as we play…interesting enough was just introduced to a Negroni this weekend…found them to “tasty indeed”

  3. Any sport that allows me to hold a drink in one hand–ring toss, ping pong, swimming, etc.–is the right sport for me. Bocce may just be next on my list since we have a little stretch of sand nearby.

    Did you see my new glass? The one that says, “I’m outdoorsy in that I like getting drunk on patios.”

  4. Campari and soda is my go-to summer drink. The fresh blackberry syrup is an elegant, super tasty idea.

  5. What a fun post! A few of the wineries in Napa and Sonoma have bocce, and it’s fun to play accompanied by a good bottle of zinfandel, too. But I’ll be sure to try the special cocktail!

  6. YUM. had a campari and soda recently and i’d forgotten how much i enjoy it. trying this very soon.

  7. Ooh, this sounds good. I’ve never tried Bocce (the game kind), but it does sound like fun – especially if a cool drink like this is waiting!

  8. I love how you connect food stuff with fun things like bocce (which I’ve never heard of). I’ve heard of curling, but had no idea what it was. It all sounds very Louisa May Alcott-ish.

    As a side note, we actually have two mulberry trees here, but have never made anything with the berries.

    1. Jane, pick those mulberries! You can use them like you would blackberries or black raspberries for jam, too. (or may I suggest eating them with Greek yogurt and honey as a tasty no-cook breakfast?)

      It’s cracking me up to think of the Little House girls trying curling in their petticoats and lace up shoes. :)

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