A Classic Cocktail Inspires Countless Variations

Photograph by BETH NAKAMURA

If cocktails were like sports teams, you’d see plenty of garnet red Negroni jerseys every time you stepped into a craft cocktail bar. Perhaps less familiar to the casual tippler than celebrity grade cocktails such as the martini, the margarita or the Manhattan, the Negroni nevertheless has an ardent fan base, one that’s growing larger and more dedicated as curious drinkers increasingly warm up to its robust flavor.

Three Negroni Recipes [ Show/Hide ]

Admittedly, the powerful character of the Negroni can take a little getting used to. Typically crafted as an equal parts mix of three ingredients, the Negroni starts with a base of gin and sweet vermouth a combination that once largely defined the ancestral martini, and that on its own offers a lovely if somewhat simple character of botanical elegance. With the addition of Campari, however, any notion of simplicity is demolished, replaced by the pyrotechnic complexity that this bombastic Italian bitter liqueur contributes to the mix. Attractive enough on their own, the ingredients become positively alluring when mixed, which explains the rapturous passion of Negroni devotees.

First created in a bar in Florence (likely the Caffe Casoni) circa 1919, the Negroni bears the moniker of its original paramour, Count Camillo Negroni, an aristocrat and gambler who during his colorful life once worked as a rodeo cowboy in America. Now approaching its centennial, the classic Negroni has earned a global following, and its simple structure and enduring appeal have inspired creative bartenders to riff on its perfect balance of flavors, producing many delicious variations. Bars in New York serve reinterpreted Negronis made with Jamaican rum in place of gin, or swizzle the drink with crushed ice like a Caribbean punch. Tequila plays a peppery substitute for gin in Negroni relatives served in bars from Berlin to San Francisco to Melbourne. And in Chicago, it’s possible to order an edible Negroni, its constituent elements rendered solid using highfalutin kitchen magic in a blend of art and chemistry.

Not surprisingly, Portland bartenders have gone deep with the Negroni as well. Irving Street Kitchen features a White Negroni, using a French bitter aperitif wine in lieu of Campari and swapping out vermouth for pinot noir verjus from Montinore Estate. Lydia Reissmueller at Central in Old Town follows a similar approach, using a locally made vermouth Chinato d’Erbetti from Cana’s Feast winery and citrus soda. Over at Bar Avignon, the Eastside Negroni features the orangy brightness of Aperol and the rich bitterness of Punt e Mes vermouth. At Beaker Flask, the caraway spice of aquavit steps in for gin’s airy botanicals in the Norwegian Negroni, and Clyde Common’s Negronis aged in used bourbon barrels have earned international attention.

At Nostrana, bar manager Doug Derrick has such enthusiasm for the Negroni that over the course of a year beginning last spring and culminating with a Negroni Social on April 1 he came up with a different Negroni variation for each month, based on certain flavor concepts and the changing tastes of the season. “The Negroni is very versatile, and you can make it in so many ways,” Derrick says. “We figured instead of changing our Negroni every once in a while, why don’t we always have it on the list and make it a Negroni of the Month.”

The cold winter months saw Negroni variations made with the richness of Ransom Old Tom Gin or with the spicy flavor of aquavit, while the summer versions featured lighter interpretations made with bright Italian aperitif wines and flavored with drops of ginger tincture. Derrick’s favorites included a springtime version dubbed La Prima, made with dry vermouth and flavored with a touch of heady Barolo Chinato; and the Continental, mixed with the earthy bitterness of Cynar liqueur and the gentle sweetness of French blanc vermouth.

After working his way through a year’s worth of Negroni variations, Derrick might be forgiven for wanting to take a break from the iconic cocktail. But like true Negroni devotees everywhere, the greater exposure to the drink has only made him eager for more. “I’m way into it,” Derrick says. “I spend all month looking forward to creating a new Negroni for the next.”wholesale jerseys

This sparkly, refreshing, super simple cocktail (pictured above) swaps out the gin in a traditional Negroni for a generous pour of soda water. It’s a classic, said to be created in 1861, and was originally known as the Milano Turino. Why? Because the Campari is from near Milan, while the Martini and Rossi vermouth is from the province of Turin. During prohibition the Italians dubbed it the Americano because they noticed it was the cocktail of choice among American visitors.

1 ounce Campari 1 ounce Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth (see note) Soda water Garnish: Lemon slice Ice

Pack a 12 to 14 ounce collins glass with ice. Add the Campari and vermouth. Top with soda water. Garnish with a thin slice of lemon slid down the side of the glass.

Note: Be sure to refrigerate your leftover vermouth and use it up in a month. Although vermouth is fortified wine, it doesn’t have the alcohol content of a spirit or liqueur and will oxidize within a couple of weeks if left at room temperature.

Doug Derrick, Nostrana

Doug Derrick at Nostrana rotated 12 Negroni variations through his menu over the past year, with a different interpretation of the drink for each month; he says the Continental was his favorite. Cynar, a bitter liqueur flavored with artichokes and other botanicals, substitutes for the classic Campari, and its hearty earthiness is offset by the subtle sweetness of Dolin Blanc vermouth.

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth gin3/4 ounce Cynar

1/2 ounce Dolin Blanc vermouth Ice Thin slice of lemon zest, for garnish

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well until thoroughly chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and twist the lemon zest over the drink, using it as garnish.

Doug Derrick, Nostrana

Our June 2011 Mixmaster column put a spotlight on all the creative Negroni variations bartenders are mixing up these days. But if your aim is to make the classic drink, the following ingredients and proportions should never change. Still, you can be a bit more flexible with the way you serve it. If you like your drinks on the rocks, simply pour the spirits over ice in a highball glass, stir and sip. You can even add a splash of soda water.

1 ounce sweet vermouth 1 ounce Campari 1 ounce dry gin Ice Garnish: orange twist In cocktail shaker or pint glass, combine vermouth, Campari, gin and ice. Stir for about 30 seconds until very cold. Strain into martini glass and garnish with orange twist.