It’s that time of year again!
No, I’m not referring to the fact that with Memorial Day yesterday the summer grilling season is (un)officially upon us.
Our friendly bartenders across the country who are as obsessed with the Negroni as I am have officially deemed this final week of May as Negroni Week. Why not? Every week is Negroni Week for me, alternating between tinkering with the tried and true formula, and simply enjoying the classic 1:1:1 ratio of Campari, sweet vermouth, and Gin. It’s as simple and consistent as cocktails get.
The drink’s somewhat nebulous history dates back to the 1920’s when Count Camillo Negroni was a regular at the Bar Casoni in Florence. The Count enjoyed his Americanos very much (Campari and sweet vermouth topped with soda water), but one day he asked for a stiffer Americano with Gin replacing the soda water.
And the legend was born. Except, the Negroni itself can mean all sorts of things besides the classic cocktail that the Count ordered in Florence and was brought to America by Americans who frequented the popular Bar Casoni. Often the name “Negroni” is synonymous with cocktails involving the Italian herbal spirit Campari, a bitter enthralling mix of orange, herbs, and spices.
That’s completely false as there are far more cocktails than I can count involving Campari that aren’t the Negroni. Campari is Campari. Negronis involve Campari.
However, a Negroni can also be considered a concept. This is the mathematician view of the Negroni. A Negroni can also be the term for any cocktail made in a 1:1:1 ratio following the concept of a chief spirit, a sweet element, and an herbal element. Rum, Aperol, and sweet vermouth? Why not.
This week we’ll take a look at some of the riffs on Negronis, in addition to the ones we researched a year ago.
Kevin Burke, bar manager of the exceptional Denver, Colorado restaurant Colt & Gray, with an equally impressive drink program to match the cuisine, created the “Bottechia” delving the Negroni deeper into its Italian roots with all Italian ingredients, and naming the variation for the Italian bike racer who won the 1924 Tour de France.
Campari mixes with the artichoke flavored apertivo Cynar and the minty blast of digestif Fernet Branca in the 1:1:1 ratio, replacing sweet vermouth and Gin. Stir those three together with rocks and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with a pinch of kosher salt and run a grapefruit twist around the coupe’s rim before discarding. The salt is pivotal in taming the always temperamental Fernet Branca, bringing out more of the Campari’s herbal notes.
We’ll give you another recipe today since we neglected to on the Monday holiday. In the same flavor profile of Memorial Day BBQ, how about a “Smokey Negroni?” I first saw this from Rob Pate of the bar Pêche in Austin, Texas. Simply replace the Gin with Mezcal. It’s enchanting and just the right amount of smoke versus herb versus sweet. Oh how flexible the magic Negroni ratio is.
Negroni Week was started by Portland Oregon’s Italian restaurant Nostrana and the drinks magazine Imbibe based in the city. Now the concept has expanded to bars coast to coast, many of whom have decided to donate proceeds of Negroni purchases this week to charitable causes, including victims of last week’s Oklahoma tornadoes.
Whether making a Negroni at home or trying a variation at one of dozens of bars participating, cheers to a week celebrating one of the most important and enjoyable cocktails out there. We’ll be going thru lots of Campari the next few days, that’s for sure.