Cocktail of the Month: Negroni
As a cocktail writer, I am often asked what my favorite drink is. What an impossible question! A multitude of factors come into play… the weather, my mood, the food, the atmosphere, the country, the bar and even what I’m wearing. For example I have an adorable green sundress that I bought in Chiapas that just begs for margaritas every time I wear it.
While drinking a glass of Saki feels so right in in the land of the rising sun, I can’t understand the thrill the beach boys in Bali feel when their girlfriends bring them bottles from Japan so they can drink it on the steamy beach here.
Circumstance also has so much to do with it. While I have come to accept the fact that I’ll never find an imperial IPA or a small batch bourbon in Bali, I still smile when I remember finding bottles of an aged Saint James rhum agricole from Martinique in a dusty roadside shop in Burkina Faso. Or the time a bartender offered me an 18 year-old Scotch in Kathmandu.
If I had to list a go-to drink, it would have to be the Negroni. Firstly, as a person that abhors overly sweet cocktails, I just love the herbaceous unique flavor. After coming of age before the resurgence of craft cocktails, I never want to drink another premixed margarita, Slurpee-tasting frozen daiquiri or a cloying pucker-flavored tipple, like a neon-green appletini.
The Negroni (a mixture of Campari, gin and red vermouth) is the polar opposite of artificially-flavored sugary tipples. I just love its herbaceous bitter, tangy taste.
The principle ingredient, Campari, an Italian bitter aperitif, is an infusion of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit in alcohol and water. It is characterized by its dark red color. Campari was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy. It was originally colored with carmine dye, derived from crushed cochineal insects, which gave the drink its distinctive red color.
While those with a sweet tooth sometimes complain about the medicinal taste of the bitters, there’s something about the way the sharp orange of the Campari melds with the botanicals of the gin and the vermouth, bringing the two together.
Secondly, despite it’s Italian origins, Campari is surpisingly available in far-flung corners if the globe. I’ve imbibed a sultry Pisco-forged Negroni in Peru and savored them in the Caribbean sun in St. Lucia. I sipped one in a country club in Nairobi and sought them out in Shanghai, Dubai and all over Europe.
It is believed that the Negroni evolved from an earlier Italian cocktail called the Milano-Torino. The name comes from the ingredients – a blend of Ciano Italian vermouth from Milan, and Campari from Turin. This tipple became popular with American tourists visiting Italy during prohibition, so it became known as the Americano.
The next part of the story, like many drinking stories, may be myth or fact. A widely reported account is that the Negroni was invented in Florence, Italy, in 1919. Count Camillo Negroni invented it by asking Fosco Scarselli, the bartender at the Hotel Baglioni in Florence, to strengthen his favorite cocktail, the Americano, by adding gin, according to a New York Times article. The bartender also added an orange garnish.
Aside from the Campari, the other key ingredients to a good Negroni are the gin and the vermouth. I prefer an American-style dry gin, one that has some citrus overtones, but one that is more complex and doesn’t have quite the juniper sharpness of a London-style dry gin. My favorite is Bluecoat gin from Philadelphia. When that is not available, Bombay sapphire will fit the bill.
Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth is probably the most well-known and widely available sweet vermouth. If I were sipping sweet vermouth alone with some club soda, I would prefer to go with the more upscale, Dolin Vermouth, with it’s jammy flavor. M&R will work in a pinch.
The Negroni idled on the backburner for many decades, but it has recently enjoyed resurgence, along with many other classic cocktails. For the past two years in June, Campari and Imbibe magazine have teamed up to present a nationwide Negroni Week. Numerous bars in D.C. can mix up a fantastic version of the cocktail. It’s always a safe bet to order at any of Washington’s cocktail-centric watering holes, like Bourbonsteak in Georgetown or the Columbia Room in Mount Vernon Square. A few other surprising places that serve a smoking Negroni are Murphy’s Irish Pub in Woodley Park and Smoke and Barrel in Adams Morgan.
1 oz Gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
Place ingredients into an ice-filled shaker. Stir well. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or an ice-filled tumbler. Garnish with an orange twist or flamed orange peel.