Drink of the Week: The Negroni

It is with some shame that your humble writer admits that, until a few days ago, he had never tasted Campari. In case you don’t know, Campari is theoretically a very popular Italian apéritif — that’s “before dinner drink” to us English speaking barbarians — that’s essentially a drinkable variety of bitters. You see it consumed with soda in European films and every bar in the world seems to stock it but, classic spirit or not, nobody we know seems to drink it or anything made with it.

So it was with great curiousity that yours truly brought home a bottle of the stuff and broke the lifelong Campari drought. First, a surprising and delicious burst of orangey sweetness reminiscent of a really tasty Italian vermouth, then, a bracing bitterness. A bit strong and not 100% pleasant in the usual sense, but fascinating. Time for had another sip.

the NegroniYep, it was good to take the bitter with the sweet. It was better to try the most famous cocktail made using Campari.

The Negroni

1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry gin
Twist of orange peel (garnish)

Shake like the dickens and serve in a chilled martini glass. Semi-optional final step: swirl the orange twist around the rim of the glass and “express” it (twist it) over the drink. Drop it in.

If the above seems a bit too sweet for you, feel free to increase the gin slightly and decrease the Campari and vermouth. (David Wondrich‘s version is 1.5 ounces gin to 3/4 ounce Campari and vermouth, and it works beautifully.)

*****

Folks, I’m going to drop the “royal we” I’ve been using and say in the first person that I really love the Negroni. It appeals to my sweet tooth while also being plenty refreshing on a warm summer day and offering a delicious complexity thanks to the one-two sweet-bitter punch of the Campari, softened by the sweet vermouth and with a terrific tang coming from the gin. For some reason, bartenders I’ve met are skittish about this drink and it has a somewhat “difficult” reputation. My take is that, if you can enjoy a Manhattan, you’re probably more than definitely ready for a Negroni and it’s a lot more accessible than a martini. I love this drink and think you will, too.

The Negroni is often served on the rocks, particularly in Europe, but I tried it that way and, like most “up” drinks served on the rocks, the results were not exciting, almost sickly sweet. It’s also often served anti-James Bond style, stirred and not shaken, on account of the bar worker’s lore that gin should only be shaken when non-alcoholic ingredients are present. I tried that too and decided that worrying about the gin here was complete balderdash. Negronis demand a good shaking.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the name comes from, it’s simple enough. It seems that a turn-of-the-20th-century Italian count named Negroni was drinking another Campari-based cocktail, an Americano, (we’ll cover that some other time) and wanted a stronger version with some gin in it. That’s the whole story.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Martini

It wouldn’t be right to kick off our new “Drink of the Week” feature with any less of a beverage than this most durable but paradoxically most intimidating of cocktails. It’s the strong but perfect before dinner drink.

A million things have been written about martinis, but the first thing you need to realize is that it’s a specific cocktail and not just any liquid poured into a martini glass. We love a good chocolate martini, because it’s chocolate, but it’s no more a martini than a chocolate bunny is a rabbit. A cosmopolitan is also not a martini; it’s a freaking cosmopolitan.

Here’s our starter recipe:

2 ounces gin or vodka
1 ounce vermouth
1-2 dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters (optional, but especially recommended with gin)
Olive(s) or twist of lemon garnish

the Martini. Pour gin/vodka and vermouth over ice into cocktail shaker, along with a dash or two of orange bitters if you’ve got them. Shake or stir very vigorously and strain into chilled martini glass or, for smaller portions, a wide-mouthed champagne glass, add olive(s) or lemon twist. Always serve up — i.e., without ice. (We know people who drink martinis on the rocks, but we’ve tried them that way and think they’re wrong. Very, very wrong.)

Now, note that this is a starter recipe. You’ve doubtless heard of the dry martini. It’s possible that the term once simply referred to dry vermouth, but in common usage this is one with very little vermouth. From the “M.A.S.H.” TV series, to “Auntie Mame,” to Luis Buñuel’s surrealist comedy classic, “The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” the extremely dry martini has been lionized and joked about endlessly in low, middle, and high culture. Feel free to experiment in the direction of less vermouth, reducing the amount as much as you dare.

It’s even legitimate to make your martini a la Mame Dennis (Rosalind Russell, in the movie) and pour a small amount of vermouth into a glass and then simply discard it, filling it with extremely cold strained gin or vodka afterward. This can work particularly well with vodka. We’re pretty sure, however, that Luis Buñuel was kidding in his autobiography when he suggested merely having a ray of sunlight pass through a vermouth bottle on its way to a gin bottle.

Importantly, don’t be afraid to go in the opposite, not-so-dry, direction. Many would call our recipe, which is in fact similar to what you’ll find on the back of vermouth bottles, a bit overly “wet,” particularly for vodka. Nevertheless, it’s good to use a significant amount of a good brand of vermouth. (Señor Buñuel’s choice of Noilly-Pratt is our default.) The martini is, after all, a cocktail not just a gussied up shot. We’ve even been experimenting with a drink called, “the fitty-fitty” which is, as you would expect, 50 percent gin and 50 percent vermouth. Done right, it’s an extremely smooth martini and highly recommended.

Moving on, our take on the shaken vs. stirred debate is that shaking works really well for vodka martinis, which is what James Bond is mostly ordering in the movies, and we’re still making our mind up about how it works with gin. We’ve had good and less good gin martinis made both ways.

We hope to return to the shaken/stirred and dry/not dry dichotomies at some date in the not-so-immediate future as we continue to explore classic cocktails. For now, just remember that martinis are very much a case of trial and error with your taste buds, but even the errors should be fun.

  

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