Ask a serious bartender or mixologist to name their favorite spirit and they might cite the obscure new issue from some micro-distillery’s latest heritage grain, a recently rediscovered French liqueur or perhaps an Italian amaro such as Fernet Branca or Averna. But ask them for their favorite cocktail and nine out of 10 will just say, “Negroni.”
With its origins in the Milano-Torino (later, Americano), the Negroni takes its name from Italian playboy Count Camillo Negroni, for whom Florentine bartender Fosco Scarselli created the drink. Like an Americano, it begins with Campari (of Milan) and Cinzano sweet vermouth (of Turin). But Negroni liked his Americano with gin (many insist upon Plymouth) instead of soda water, so about 1919, Scarselli obliged, and he also slid an orange slice in between the ice and glass instead of a lemon peel.
Attendees at the sold-out seminar “The Negroni: An Iconic Cocktail” learned all this and more during Tales of the Cocktail 2011 in New Orleans. Southern Wine & Spirits of America’s corporate director of mixology and spirits education, Francesco Lafranconi, embraced that spirit of reinvention with his own creation, Il Postino (“The Postman”), for Tales of the Cocktail’s Negroni With a Twist party. “The drink is generous in flavors, and the red-amber color is captivating to the eye,” Lafranconi says. It’s a co-national treasure, or it should be.
Combine 1 ounce Plymouth gin, 1 ounce Campari, ¾ ounce Averna Amaro, ¼ ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur over ice and stir. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass or into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a green Castelvetrano olive and a swath of grapefruit peel.
Variations on a Theme
Roll Out the Barrel
On a recent trip to Portland, Ore., I had the opportunity to punch a hole in my cocktail bucket list by enjoying one of bartender/mixologist/blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s barrel-aged Negronis at Clyde Common. It was, as promised, a revelation—wood-mellowed but not overly so, and as The New York Times’ Robert Simonson said in 2010, “a cocktail for slow, contemplative sipping.” Recipe and tips await at JeffreyMorgenthaler.com.
By the Book
“There’s no other drink that I’ve seen that has gone through a metamorphosis as this,” observed former U.S. Bartenders Guild national president Livio Lauro, who recently translated Luca Picchi’s book On the Trail of the Count: The True Story of the Negroni Cocktail from Italian to English. “Try that with a mojito—it just wouldn’t work.” Lauro contributed his own Garibaldino to the Negroni With a Twist party: 1 ounce Campari, 1 ounce Luxardo apricot brandy, 1 ounce blood orange juice and 1 ounce Mionetto Prosecco, built in a rocks glass over ice, stirred and garnished with an orange slice and a basil leaf.
Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel was a professional drinker who doctored the classic Negroni to his liking, and what emerged is the Buñueloni. His eponymous cocktail combines gin and sweet vermouth but replaces Campari with Carpano, yet another family of vermouth. But, as dedicated Buñuelian “Eugenia” points out on her blog, CulinariaEugenius.wordpress.com, Buñuel never specified which Carpano. Eugenia’s efforts have yielded, I think, the best Buñueloni: 1½ ounces gin, 1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula vermouth and 1 ounce Cinzano Rosso sweet vermouth on the rocks with an orange slice.