May 31, 2018 / Rachel Eva
With Negroni week just around the corner, we've been stirring up a few more of one of our favorite drinks in anticipation... the NEGRONI, duh!
History of The Negroni Cocktail
The Negroni has become one of the godfathers of the suite of cocktails we call "classic." Any bartender worth the olive in your martini should know how to make one.
The cocktail is most commonly credited to Count Camillo Negroni, who decided he wanted an Americano with a bit more of a kick, and swapped the soda water out for gin. That was around 1920, at Caffe Rivoire in Florence, Italy. It's chronicled by Lucca Picchi, the head bartender there in his account, Sulle Tracce del Conte: La Vera Storia del Cocktail Negroni.
However, some evidence suggests that a version of the Negroni was created as early as 1857 by Count Pascal Negroni, a French officer stationed in Senegal, West Africa. Campari itself wasn't invented until 1860, but the Senegal-originated cocktail spread to become popular among both French officers and local imbibers by 1886, and was credited to contain Campari by at least 1914.
Negroni Recipe Variations
Though the Negroni recipe is one of the simplest you'll find (equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth), it's not our favorite version. I find it a bit too sweet, almost syrupy. Campari contributes not only the iconic bitter taste, but a huge amount of sugars as well (in addition to the sweet vermouth). One liter of Campari is reported to contain 253 grams of sugar, which is just over 25% of it's composition (wow!).
We opt for a Negroni with the following specs:
- 1.5 oz gin
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth (we do a "short 1 oz" which is a bit between 3/4 and 1 full ounce)
As you can see, we just dial down the Campari and Vermouth (or increase the gin, if you want to read it that way), for a drier version that hits our palettes just right.
Sometimes we like to substitute the Campari in a Negroni for other amari to switch things up. Other orange-forward amari like Gran Classico and Luxardo Bitter are good choices, as they'll hint more at the Campari notes, but you'll be drinking a distinctly different cocktail.
Gran Classico will taste sweeter, not necessarily because there's more sugar, but because it's decidedly less bitter. For those of you who haven't crossed fully over to the bitter side, this delicious amaro may be the way to go!
Luxardo Bitter is a nice middle-of-the-road between the sharp, bold bitterness of Campari and the gentle, heavy build of Gran Classico.
One of our more recent delightful variations has been using St. George Bruto Americano in place of the Campari. It doesn't overwhelm the drink with bitterness, and has nice woody notes that pair beautifully with California citrus. Lance Winters, master distiller at St. George, likes to use Bruto Americano in a mezcal Negroni (swap the gin out for that smoky agave spirit!). That sounds so great, I think we'll make some this evening!
Not clear on Amaro? Read our Introduction to Amari for more on bitter liqueurs!
How to Make a Negroni
The Negroni Cocktail is a classic stirred drink - never shake a Negroni.
Tools & Equipment:
- Mixing Glass (our Hammered Mixing Glass is nice!)
- Barspoon (check out the Aero Cocktail Spoon or the Wingman Spinning Cocktail Spoon)
- Cocktail Glass (serve a Negroni on the rocks in an old fashioned glass, or strained into a cocktail coupe with no ice)
- Ice (for stirring and serving, if your Negroni will be on ice. We recommend some nice square cubes like those you can make with silicone ice cube trays).
Gin: a London dry gin is a staple Negroni choice, but feel free to use a more floral gin or even navy strength. Our advice: use what you have on hand, or can get to quickly.
Campari: readily available in most liquor stores; we recommend exploring other amaro alternatives for the adventurous and curious (see above). Of course, you should probably start with Campari!
Sweet Vermouth: We recommend Carpano Antica formula, or something a step up from Martini & Rossi - you'll have a drastically better experience :)
Orange Peel Garnish is traditional; use a lemon if you have no orange, or garnish with both if you're feeling fancy.
The Boulevardier Cocktail: A Prohibition Mash-Up
The Boulevardier is essentially a Negroni that uses bourbon instead of gin. It's delicious, and has one of my favorite Prohibition-era origin stories.
When the National Prohibition Act was ratified in January of 1919 in the United States, it became illegal to "manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor." Cocktail establishments, their guests, and employees were left reeling (and it wasn't just from their last night of legal drinking).
Alcohol consumers quickly learned to hack together homebrews, moonshine, and pot-stilled fruit brandies. Indeed, at-home winemaking was actually allowed under the Act--up to 1,000 bottles per family per year! Many bars and retailers went out of business as the sale and distribution of the prohibited substances were taken over by criminal gangsters and bootleggers. But bartenders - if they were committed to their craft (and wanted to practice freely) - they moved to Europe.
A bartender from the Plaza Hotel in New York, Harry McElhone, was one of the first to abandon ship in America and begin tending bar abroad. He worked in London and Deauville, France, before opening his own place in Paris called Harry's New York Bar. Harry served many American made pre-prohibition drinks, and (naturally) began making new drinks with European spirits and liqueurs previously unavailable in the US.
The Boulevardier Cocktail was the drink he made time and time again for Erskine Gwynne, an American writer and editor of the Parisian magazine, The Boulevardier. It uses Italian Campari, American bourbon, and sweet vermouth: a perfect cross-continental creation.
Next week begins the world-wide celebration of the Negroni (usually the first week in June). There are a bazillion events going on, and if you're located near any center of imbibing culture, chances are there will be Negroni-centered drinking parties and special tastings. You can find a list of all the activities on the Negroni Week website. One of the neat things that bars do to participate in this red festival each year is select a charity to donate a portion of all Negroni profits to. So find a participating establishment, and go order one of these ruby renditions right away!