Easily the greatest aperitivo of all time and the quintessential Italian cocktail. The magical triad of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari was purportedly invented by a Count. Yes, that’s right. An Italian Count, no less. Many people have guffawed and hastily dismissed this tale of origin, suggesting that it is “absurd” and “preposterous”, or even a clever PR campaign dreamt up by Campari SpA.
So the story goes that Camillo Negroni, a bona fide bibulous Count, spent a great deal of time in his hometown of Florence frequenting the local drinkeries and caffè. On one memorable evening in 1919, the Count popped into Caffè Casoni looking to liquorize. He was feeling particularly merry (or perhaps majorly bummed out) and requested that the bartender – one Fosco Scarselli – for something with a little more punch than his usual drink, the Americano. In a stroke of pure, unadulterated genius, the Count requested that signor Scarselli supplant the soda with gin. Once word on the street got around with regards to the sheer deliciousness of this concoction, la cittadinanza start to order their Americano the “Negroni” way. Thence, a classic is born.
Too fanciful to believe? Well, a book written by Luca Picchi, entitled “Sulle tracce del conte: La vera storia del cocktail ‘Negroni’,” verifies that the Count existed, and that he did, indeed, invent the Negroni. The book reveals that Count Negroni was well traveled and developed his taste for gin during time spent in London. Furthermore, Picchi’s research has brought to light that the Count did a stint as a rodeo cowboy and gambler in the United States, AND, when hammering back drinks he would count aloud in a booming voice, “Uno cocktail! Ah! Ah! Ah! Due cocktail! Ah! Ah! Ah!” Okay, I made that very last bit up, but everything else is true, I promise you.
Orson Welles once said of the Negroni, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.” I like Orson Welles.
- 1½ oz. Beefeater London Dry Gin
- ¾ oz. Campari
- ¾ oz. Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
Add all of the ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice and stir for about 20 seconds, or until you get a fizzy feeling behind your belly button indicating that the drink is properly chilled/diluted (that’s normal, right?). Strain over a king cube in a chilled rocks glass and garnish with an orange half-wheel. Admire your elegant, ruby-coloured masterpiece.
Adhering to the Word of Jim Meehan, Beefeater is employed because it uses orange peel as one of its primary botanicals, which happens to compliment the bitter orange Campari flavour, as well as the orange garnish. On the topic of gin, some of you may note that I have eschewed the sacred 1:1:1 ratio. Gary Regan has warned against experimenting with the proportions – he states that “balance is of the primary importance in a Negroni, and using equal parts of each ingredient is absolutely necessary to achieve perfection.” Meh. I really like gin.
I’ve been told that the astringency of a Negroni (well, Campari, really) is an acquired taste; however, my palate seems to have adapted with startling alacrity. My love for this drink is unabashed. The brilliant combination of racy, astringent structure, herbal intensity, and bitter sweet flavours is a delight, resulting in an aromatic, bright, and clean tasting cocktail. My relatively limited knowledge of cocktails indicates that the best and most enduring cocktails are those that have only two or three ingredients, yet manage to be more than a sum of its parts. The Negroni is a perfect example of this.
As mentioned previously, this drink is traditionally an aperitivo; however, I urge that you exercise caution before having too many of these on an empty stomach. Too many times have I fallen victim to its devious potency; drink responsibly unless you are acclimatized to liquor and know how to stow it away effectively. It is a lion dressed in sheep’s clothing.
A delicious, delicious lion.