Cocktail Profile: The Negroni
Ah, the Negroni. If you haven’t had one. You must. You’ll probably hate it. What you must do in this scenario is have another one. That one won’t be much better. But the third one? The third one’s the charm.
The Negroni is one of those magical beasts: a three-part, holy trinity of a drink, the whole so much greater than its parts. Those parts are equal measures – gin, sweet vermouth and Campari – and they become indivisible. The gin provides the backbone while the sweet vermouth and Campari play a marvellous tug-of-war on your palate. In an instant you’re lulled into a sweet sweet vermouth embrace and then, just as you’re relaxing in its voluptuous arms, you’re sharply slapped across the face, reminded that one third of the Negroni’s being is the uncompromising and assertive Campari. Bittersweet Campari isn’t the shiest of backbar modifiers. Its acerbic nature stems from a combination of an army of bitter barks and herbs. As with any near-mythical product of this nature you’ll struggle to find an accurate list of ingredients. If you ask Campari they’ll shrug in the way only an Italian can; safe in the confidence that everything is a better in Italy, “some say 20 ingredients, some say 80, all we know for sure is there is alcohol, sugar and water”. Thanks for that, Campari.
Some things can be agreed upon however: Campari is bitter. It’s a drink for grown-ups. And, like coffee, it can take some getting used to. It’s widely assumed to contain chinotto, cascarilla, wormwood and gentian. It no longer contains beetles to give it its colour, which depending on how hardcore you like to consider yourself is either a blessing or a curse. You could always add some of your own.
Sweet vermouth is the unsung hero of the cocktail world. Rarely the lead, but so often the killer supporting character actor. Sweet vermouth is like Paul Giamatti or Allison Janney, not the first ingredient you think of, but when you see it you remember how great it is.
And then there is gin. Well you’re here, and I’m here, so we both know what we think about gin.
The haircut on the Negroni is either the fancified orange twist you’ll get in swanky Australian bars (If you want to make your own twist here’s how), accenting the bitter notes with zesty Valencian oils, or a fat wedge of orange – the Italian job – the soft fresh orange juice softening Campari’s blow. This might be the best option for your first encounter with a Negroni - it’s certainly the most satisfying, often becoming the first time in years many adults remember the joy of biting the flesh away from the orange and grinning for a few glorious moments, pretending your teeth are made of orange peel.
Like many truly great cocktails, the Negroni has a few famous close relatives. The grandfather of the family, the Milano-Torino is so named because Campari comes from Milan and sweet vermouth traditionally came from Turin, and so obviously on the road that links the two something magical happened. I like to imagine that the two met on a darkened, dusky night and started to dance, and haven’t stopped to this day. Legend has it that Americans on prohibition exile holidays in Europe found the Milano-Torino a little confronting to deal with, and so the ever-hospitable Italians came up with a restrained revision - The Americano. Lengthened and relaxed with soda water – an excellent breakfast drink.
There is the not-very-plausible legend of the Negroni Sbagliato, which translates as a wrong, ruined or mistaken Negroni. The legend goes that an absent-minded bartender allegedly reached for the gin but accidentally topped the drink with prosecco. As a naturally sceptical person, I doubt that happened, but I do believe someone thought that the marriage of vermouth and Campari would make a marvellous Spritz, and they were right.
And then there is the Boulevardier. Swap the gin (you have my permission just this once) and substitute it for whisky. Some people will say this whisky should be rye or bourbon. Don’t listen to those people. You should drink whatever the hell whisky you like. And if you meet me back here in 2019, we’ll have an Archie Rose Rye Boulevardier together.
- 30ml Archie Rose Gin (I attest that Archie Rose Distiller’s Strength makes the best Negroni out there)
- 30ml Campari
- 30ml sweet vermouth
In posh bars you’ll often see bartenders stirring down a Negroni to serve it over fresh ice, but if you’re using domestic or party ice you won’t need to do this - it’ll dilute fast enough anyway. Just stick all the ingredients into a glass over ice. Cut a wedge of orange or a twist if you’re feeling daring, and pop it in. Rinse, repeat.