Cheers To The Count, The Creator of the Negroni

By Matt Sorrell
In Food

I’m often asked what my favorite cocktail is, and while I try and shy away from committing to just one, when pressed I’d have to say that my all-time fave is the Negroni.

Photo by Matthias Friedlein/ Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Matthias Friedlein/ Wikimedia Commons

This sublime drink, comprised of equal parts of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, has it all—sweetness, bitterness and herbaceous botanicals. It’s bright and lively, the perfect proof of the old adage “less is more.”

Just three ingredients, but the complexity that comes about when they’re mixed together most certainly transcends the sum of the cocktail’s parts. Some novice imbibers are put off by the bitter component in the Negroni that’s provided by the Campari, but it’s just a part of the overall equation, perfectly balanced out by all of the other ingredients. Fear not!

Not only is this cocktail supremely quaffable, but the story of the advent of the Negroni is one of the great tales of cocktail lore. The drink was named after Count Camillio Negroni, a for-real Italian count who was also quite the raconteur, and perhaps a bit of a rouge as well. The story goes that he spent time in America as a cowboy and a gambler before returning home to Italy. Sometime a bit prior to 1920, the Count stopped by one of his regular watering holes, Bar Casoni in Florence, and ordered an Americano, a refreshing combo of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water. In a quest for a bit more bite, he requested that the soda be switched out for gin. The rest is boozy history.

For those playing at home, here’s the traditional Negroni recipe:

.75 oz London Dry gin
.75 oz Campari
.75 oz sweet vermouth

Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

The beauty of the Negroni for the professional and amateur mixologist alike is that it lends itself so well to experimentation. One of my favorite tweaks is to double the amount of gin to bring up the booze quotient (a tip imparted to me by Ted Kilgore).

Another easy variation is to sub out another amaro (aka bitter Italian liqueur) for the Campari—I especially like to use Cynar, a rich, artichoke-based amaro. For first-timers who might not be ready for the in-your-face flavor of Cynar, the milder orange-forward Aperol is a good call to replace the Campari.

Try using one of the various vermouths on the market to switch things up, or perhaps insert another spirit in place of the gin. There are some Negroni variations that have become classics in their own right by incorporating these sorts of substitutions: the Boulevardier uses bourbon instead of gin, while the Old Pal incorporates rye whiskey and utilizes dry vermouth in place of the sweet variety. The myriad flavors you can get out of these simple switches is unlimited.

Orange twists are a common garnish for Negronis in these parts, but orange slices are used quite a bit in Italy, and lemon peels are also frequently employed. And while I prefer mine straight-up, many Negroni aficionados demand theirs served on the rocks. The sky’s the limit for what you can do with this simple cocktail formula, so indulge your creative side and have some fun with it.

Because I’m such a Negroni fan (and hopefully I’ve converted some of the readership as well with this missive), I want to give all area cocktalians a heads up about Negroni Week, which will run from June 6 to June 12. This annual initiative, sponsored by Imbibe Magazine, Campari and Beefeater, is designed to celebrate the venerable Negroni while also supporting a range of worthy causes. Bars all over the world sign up to participate, and put a Negroni, or a variation of it, on their menu, with a portion of the sale of each drink to a charity of their choosing. Last year, more than 3,500 venues across the globe raised more than $320,000 for charitable causes.

You can find out what bars in your area are participating by going to negroniweek.com. This is a stellar opportunity for the curious drinker to explore the wide world of the Negroni, and give back to the community to boot. Cheers!

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