This is one of those drinks you either love or you hate. I can’t remember if I loved them from the start, scrunched my face up like I’d been sucking lemons or if I just toughed it out to impress my bartender friends and my Italian coupled business partner. A Negroni has a soul, I can put it in no simpler terms than that. It’s scent is as powerful as it’s kick and the taste is one that takes some getting used to. It is one of the truly great cocktails, and as such, it comes with a history, or a few different versions of them.
The History(s) of the Negroni Cocktail.
- The Drink was invented by a man named General Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni. He was a French soldier who fought under Napoleon in the Franco Prussian war of 1870. We was obviously as good at fighting as he was at mixing drinks, picking up a Commander of the Imperial Legion of Honour for his trouble. This version of history is light on details outside of the Comtes military success.
- The drink was invented in 1920 at Bar Casioni in Florence. The Americano, vastly inferior drink of equal parts Sweet Vermouth and Campari and soda water, had become popular in the wake of the American late entry to the First World War. Count Camillo Negroni was a regular at the bar and asked for his to made with Gin instead of sparkling water. Unsurprisingly, the drink took off and people visiting the bar started to ask for their Americanos “the Negroni way”
- My Favourite history etwines the glamour (for some) of occupied Paris during the Second World War. While officers of the OSS slipped into highbrow parties held by the occupied aristocracy and rubbed shoulders with jackbooted Germans and the likes of Coco Chanel, the bars of Paris were hotbeds of espionage. The American and British were being fed intelligence by an Italian count who went by the name of Negroni. His signature drink was equal parts Gin, Camapri and Sweet Vermouth. Hemingway, who was in town for at least part of the time, was inspired to create the Boulevardier (below) Negroni’s bourbon cousin. This story probably has the least chance of being true, partyly because the Hemingway’s drink hit print in 1927 in “Barflies and Cocktails,” by Harry McElhone. I don’t care really, a story with Nazi’s is always a little more compelling.
All this writing is making me thristy, so let’s get on to the method.
30 mls Gin, 30 mls Campari, 30 mls sweet vermouth. Stir in a rocks glass over ice, garnish with a fresh Orange slice.
I’d use a bigger gin with plenty of bite, say Plymouth or Beefeater, export strength is better if you have it. pay attentions to the measures, equal parts renders a very special drink. If you, like me, favour a more botanical gin like Tanqueray, South or Hendricks, up the Gin measure so the punch of Juniper is not lost.
One Negroni is almost never enough, and each one is better than the last, right until you fall off you seat. If you do decide that you need a variation to get you through the night, or just like experimenting, you could always try one of these.
Sbagliato means ‘wrong’ in Italian. Substitute Spumante Sparkling wine for the Gin and you’ll find out why this is a wrong negroni.
A Russian Negroni. Substitute vodka for Gin. Kind of a more alcoholic Americano. Kind of pointless.
Substitutes Cynar, made from artichokes for Campari
As above, use Cynar instead of Campari, substitute Noilly Prat for the sweet vermouth. Change the ratios to 1 and a 1/2 Gin 1/2 Cynar 2/3 Noilly Prat. Maybe try this one early on, it’s a bit hard to remember.
Substitute a decent 100% agave tequila for the gin. My favourite outside of the original. Adorn with grapefruit, preferably ruby red.
Hendricks Gin, Lillet Blanc & Aperol.
Substitute bourbon for the gin. Maybe add a little more bourbon than the others.
Use Punt E Mes as the vermouth.
You can change the brand of gin, the brand of bitter aperitif and the brand of vermouth to create many, many variations. If you’ve stumbled on a gem, or found one that really works, i’d love to read it in the comments.