The classic aperitif, the Negroni has plenty of positive connotations – summer in Italy, drinking on a terrace before dinner, La Dolce Vita, and slick Italian men in linen suits and Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Though the cocktail itself is often described as an acquired taste, it is the definition of balance with the vermouth mellowing the slightly medicinal characters of the Campari,
while the gin adds depth of flavour.
The canonical story has it that Count Camillo Negroni invented the drink in 1919, in Florence, Italy, at Caffè Casoni. He asked his bartender Fosco Scarselli, to strengthen his favourite cocktail, the Americano, by adding gin rather than soda water. Scarselli switched to an orange garnish to signify that it was a different drink, and soon, the punters were all ordering a ‘Count Negroni’. After the success of the cocktail, the Negroni family founded Negroni Distillery in Treviso, Italy, and produced a ready-made version, the Antico Negroni. An alternative theory – that began to gain
ground in 2014 – attributes the invention to General Pascal Olivier de Negroni, or Count de Negroni. A Corsican Frenchman, he introduced his military colleagues to his favourite “vermouth-based cocktail” of his own invention while posted in Senegal, West Africa, in 1857. However, as Campari was not invented until 1860 it is possible that this was simply a pre-curser version. How it got to Italy is anyone’s guess.
Regardless of the convoluted history, the Negroni is a classic, and there are plenty of ways to put a twist on it. The Negroni Slushy first made waves in Chicago in 2013 before hitting the New York bar scene. The frozen drink is served straight up, and apparently the bitter, refreshing flavours were a huge hit with bar goers. More familiar is the barrel-aged Negroni that is currently starring in bars like Sydney’s Nomad (theirs is aged in oak for exactly 41 days). Taking in off in 2009, the practice follows on from the tradition of barrel-aging whisky to impart flavour and colour. The basic premise therefore holds that the barrelling creates a Negroni that is smoother, mellower and with deeper flavour notes – a cocktail for really brooding over, Hemingway-style. The Bon Vivant in Edinburgh has taken their aging one step further with a specialty solera system. It consists of six wooden barrels and makes for a striking feature in the bar. A traditional variation is the Negroni Sbagliato – which means literally “mistake Negroni” in Italian – where the gin is replaced with sparkling wine for a less full-on version of the classic aperitif. And for those in need of a pick-me-up, the classic has also been given a caffeinated twist with the addition of cold drip coffee or cold drip coffee liqueur. Eau De Vie developed a version, with their Experimental Spirits Co also selling Cold Drip Negroni by the bottle.
WHERE TO ORDER A NEGRONI
Ceres’ Table (Chicago) serves The Lazy Hitman (Ford’s Gin, Solerno blood orange liqueur, Carpano Bianco, Campari, Regans’ orange bitters, blood orange garnish). 2 Sparrows (Chicago) has the Earl of Negroni (Earl Grey-infused North Shore Gin #11, Campari, sweet vermouth, orange syrup). I Sodi (NYC) – Negronis are the specialty with four on the menu. The Gilroy (NYC) does a bespoke selection including the Boulevardier (Old Forester bourbon, Cynar, Aperol), the Oaxaca (Ilegal mezcal, Antica formula, Campari), and a selection of aged Negronis. Parm (NYC) created the cult Beet Negroni (beet-infused gin, sweet vermouth and Campari). QT (Sydney) has a menu of six, including the Trident (Aalborg Aquavit, Cynar, Tio Pepe Dry Sherry, Peach Bitters) and offers flights, as well as the option to have your choice carbonated.