Get Set for Negroni Week!

Negroni served in Vancouver BC by Geoff Peters via Wikimedia Commons
Negroni served in Vancouver BC by Geoff Peters via Wikimedia Commons

Italians are a passionate people. Their passion spreads to all aspects of life, including food and drink. They take meals seriously, with plenty of flavors and textures in the food they consume. Wine is always on the table, along with liquors to help aid in digestion and to open the palate for what is about to be enjoyed. Is it any surprise that in this environment one of the most classic of cocktails, based off Italian aperitifs, was created? One that sits with Martinis, Margaritas, and Old Fashioned as paragons of the bartenders' menu? From June 1st to the 7th, bars from around the world will be celebrating Negroni Week, dedicated to this uniquely complex and balanced cocktail.

The Negroni is a simple drink, with a surprisingly clear cut history. It is based off a traditional Italian cocktail, the Americano.

Americano

  • 1 oz./30 mL Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz./30 mL Campari
  • Soda water
  • Garnish: Orange slice

Pour the Campari and vermouth into a glass over ice, then top off with soda water. Garnish with the orange, and enjoy.

Makings of Americano cocktail by Butterbean via Wikimedia
Makings of Americano cocktail by Butterbean via Wikimedia

How much soda you use is a topic for debate; some recipes call for a splash, some call for 2 parts soda to the 1:1 ratio of Campari and vermouth. What is not up for debate is that it was popular among Americans visiting in Italy as they fled the dried out United States during Prohibition. As people were coming to Italy for a cocktail, one Italian noble was heading to America. According to a book by Luca Picci called Sulle Trace del Conte (On the Count’s Trail), Count Camillo Negroni fled Italy when it was discovered that his passions had led to fathering a child out of wedlock. He became a cattle rancher and a gambler during his exile to Canada and the United States, and took to the Wild West lifestyle. It was not until 1912 that he returned to his native Italy, and years after that before he ventured to Florence. Gaz Regan tells a story in his new book, The Negroni, about an encounter between the Count and a lost American reporter. The reporter asked if he spoke English (while Negroni was dressed in full cowboy gear). His response was “You’re tootin’ I do, hombre.” There came a day in 1919 that the Count needed something a little stiffer than the popular Americano. He went into his usual bar, Caffé Casoni, and asked bartender Fosco Scarselli for an Americano, but with gin instead of soda water. Thus the Negroni was born!

With all the current interest in classic cocktails and their culture, the Negroni has been taking a more prominent place on cocktail menus all over the country. David Wondrich claims it is “one of the world’s indispensable cocktails.” Author Sir Kingsley Amis once wrote about the Negroni that “This is really a fine invention. It has the power, rare with drinks and indeed with anything else, of cheering you up.” When cocktails started to go into bottles and barrels, the Negroni was one of the first ones considered by mixologists. It has been considered a top notch classic cocktail for decades, and in 2013 the editors of Imbibe took notice and did something about it.

Negroni Week was created in 2013 to celebrate this iconic cocktail and to help raise money for local charities. It was not long after that Campari joined the celebration, and the number of participating bars jumped from 100 to over 1,300. This year is looking even bigger, as the participating bar count has almost doubled to just under 2,500. Last year saw bars in forty states and eighteen countries bring out philanthropic cocktail lovers. For every Negroni purchased during the week, that bar will give $1 to a local charity of their choice, ensuring that this generosity is going to where it is needed most. Last year the week raised over $120,000 for local charities around the world. If you are in one of the larger cities in the United States, Beefeater Gin has jumped in to help you find the top bars in that city with this handy passport.

Much like other classic cocktails, one of the things that endears it to bartenders and guests is how flexible it can be. Its openness for interpretation is something that has encouraged people to experiment with the basic recipe, from finding the right vermouth or aperitif to add to the mix or changing the proportions of the cocktail. Writer Jason Wilson once commented that it is “just about the perfect cocktail…so simple that even the worst bartender can’t mess it up too badly.” And he is correct. The proportions and elements are very accepting of variation. Here are some inspirations for you to spring board off of. But first, you have to know the original:

Society Lounge - Boulevardier by Edsel Little via Flickr
Society Lounge - Boulevardier by Edsel Little via Flickr

Negroni

  • 1 oz./30 mL Gin
  • 1 oz./30 mL Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz./30 mL Campari
  • Garnish: Orange twist

Stir all of the ingredients with ice in a glass. Add orange twist and serve.

Now that you have the basics, here are some variations on a theme:

Boulevardier

  • 1 oz./30 mL Bourbon
  • 1 oz./30 mL Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz./30 mL Campari
  • Garnish: Orange twist

Add all of the ingredients into a mixing glass over ice. Stir, then strain into a coupe. Add the orange twist and serve.

This was named after a Parisian magazine Boulevardier, founded by American Erskine Gwynne in the 1920s as a French version of The New Yorker. Harry McElhone added the cocktail to his book Barflies and Cocktails, mentioning Gwynne by name. There is a recipe that is very similar to it from the same bartender. You may even call it this cocktail’s pal.

Old Pal

  • 1 oz./30 mL Rye whiskey
  • 1 oz./30 mL Dry Vermouth
  • 1 oz./30 mL Campari
  • Garnish: Lemon Twist

Add all of the ingredients into a mixing glass over ice. Stir, then strain into a coupe. Add the orange twist and serve.

The proportions are similar to the Boulevardier, but the whiskey is switched to rye and the vermouth switches to dry. There is a theory that Mr. McElhone made a mistake when he published this version in his first book, and the 1927 version was a correction. This version was also published in The Savoy Cocktail Book, giving it its own place on a bartender’s menu.

White Negroni

  • 1.5 oz./30 mL Gin
  • .75 oz./20 mL Dry Vermouth
  • .75 oz./20 mL Cocchi Americano
  • Garnish: Orange twist

Add all of the ingredients into a mixing glass over ice. Stir, then strain into a large old fashioned glass with ice. Add the orange twist and serve.

I am oddly fascinated by clear versions of cocktails. This one is said to have started at either PDT or by Wayne Collins in London. The gin used in these versions typically leans towards a lighter, more floral flavor profile like you would find in The Botanist or Hendricks gin, both bronze medal winners in the 2014 New York International Spirits Competition.

Negroni Sbagliato

  • 1 oz./30 mL Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz./30 mL Campari
  • 1 oz./30 mL Sparkling Wine
  • Garnish: Orange twist

Pour the sweet vermouth and Campari over ice in a tall old fashioned glass and stir. Top with the sparkling wine, give it one more stir, and then serve.

This is one of those happy accidents that every inventor longs for. The legend is that in the midst of a busy shift, a bartender in Italy grabbed the wrong bottle while making a Negroni. Before the mistake was noticed, the customer who received it loved the taste and would not relinquish the cocktail. A new star was born. Sbagliato, incidentally, means “wrong” or “mistaken”.

Oaxaca Negroni

Pour the ingredients over ice into a tall old fashioned glass and stir until chilled. Garnish with the orange slice and serve.

Earthy mescal fits very well with the vermouth, and reigns in a little of the Campari’s bitterness. The whole cocktail delivers a richness which is much different than its original, more herbal parent.

Merchants of Beverage Negroni Classico Kit
Merchants of Beverage Negroni Classico Kit

The variations on the Negroni can be endless. There has not even been a mention here of the unique flavors different bitters and vermouths can add, from a hint of Cynar to the subtle differences between Noilly Pratt and Dolin for your vermouth. A solid base gives everyone who mixes cocktails free reign to develop, either by design or by happenstance, their own unique version of this classic. There are some bars, like the Planter’s House in St. Louis, where the Negroni and all of its descendants have their own part of the menu.

The love of the Negroni has blossomed into a weeklong celebration of this timeless treat. The passion that bartenders have for it has led to inspired variations and has helped the global spread of the cocktail. Every variation and unique twist just adds to the legend that one man created in Italy almost a century ago. If this libation still has not touched your lips, this is a great time to go out and experience it. And if you have experienced it, head out to any of the hundreds of restaurants participating in Negroni Week (June 1-7) and find a new variation. You will help out a local charity while finding a new way to fall in love with this simple gin cocktail all over again.

Editor's note: If you're looking to participate by making Negronis at home, we recommend Merchants of Beverage Negroni cocktail kits. In the spirits of Negroni Week, 5% of sales for each one is donated to No Kid Hungry!

Here are the options:

Negroni Classico

Negroni D'Oro

Negroni: A Balancing Act

For more Negroni reading, please visit here and here.