Something about a pitch perfect negroni hits the spot every early evening as the sun sets and the nighttime activities commence. An apertif is meant to be a simple, easy way to get nightlife under way. Be it a tawny port or a pastis, or even some prosecco, accompanied by a few slices of mortadella and some toasted nuts, everything is meant to be calm after the hectic day. A negroni continues that trend, with a hint of ambition on the side.
You can of course go the herbal apertif route and just enjoy a straight Campari on the rocks. There is no harm in that except from my experience it will completely deplete your taste buds for wine tasting with dinner afterwards. The typical negroni is almost as basic the straight Campari: a one to one to one ratio of sweet vermouth, Campari, and gin (obviously Bombay Sapphire will upgrade your negroni over Gordon’s). That holy trinity and ratio truly does work, as if Da Vinci created it. He just might have created it. Stir together and serve either rup or on the rocks, and there you go.
These warm summer days, I still go for negronis because it reminds me of summers in Italy, but nobody ever wants to settle for the status quo negroni all the time. Hence, I’ve been tinkering around and seeking variations on the negroni that stay true to its roots, with a little spark. We’re not looking for Choco-negronis much like the martini has been butchered. Just something that is inspired by the classic Italian apertivo, with a twist…and a citrus twist as a garnish.
Most intriguing to me is a riff on the concept by the innovative, hyper-seasonal restaurant in San Francisco, AQ. The “Fool’s Wager” uses Beefeater gin, but gives a touch of smoke from Ardberg 10yr scotch. The Campari is replaced by gran classico and punt e mes, then a summer bent is provided from peach bitters. The combinations are daring. The result is sterling. There is more smoke and fruit compared to the herbal Campari. It is also balanced thoroughly, served up, and truly a refreshing, handsome negroni riff.
Elsewhere in San Francisco, Jasper’s Corner Tap for a few months has been continuing the one to one to one ratio, with a major asterisk: from a keg, on tap. It’s brilliant. Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Clyde Common for years has been barrel aging negronis to tremendous results. The bourbon barrels calm down the sometimes harsh gin and Campari notes, giving the negroni a more refined taste. It becomes more digestif than apertif.
For our project, I decided to tackle the East India Negroni, inspired by Jim Meehan of New York’s famed PDT. Campari is involved, but sweet vermouth and gin are replaced by rum and sherry. Banks 5 Island Rum and Lustau East India Solera Sherry are what Meehan calls for. We went toward the bottom shelf with Christian Brothers Cream Sherry and the always impressive Bacardi Gold Rum.
The recipe calls for 2 ounces of rum to ¾ ounces each of sherry and Campari. Shake, serve on the rocks then with a twist.The drink proved slightly heavy on the rum, so I added another ¼ ounce each of sherry and Campari. Then they were still hidden, so another ¼ ounce of Campari went into the equation, finally providing its herbal note to the syrupy sherry and harsh rum.
It’s an interesting variation, one that certainly has potential. The ratios still seem complicated and not perfect like the holy one to one to one. I think while I continue to experiment, I’ll stick to the traditional style, or at least pay a visit to AQ, Jasper’s, or Clyde Common.