For over 150 years, Italians, and other drink aficionados, have reveled in the seductive red hue and distinctive bitter taste of Campari. Campari is a unique alcoholic aperitif made by infusing alcohol with bitter herbs, aromatic plants and fruit, and forms the base of the old-school classic cocktail, the Negroni. According to many sources, the Negroni was invented in Florence, Italy in the 1900’s, at Caffè Casoni. It was named after Count Camillo Negroni, the man who invented it by asking a bartender to add gin to his favorite cocktail, the Americano. Others then tried the drink and fell in love with it. By the 1940’s reference to the Negroni had also appeared in English cocktail guides.
The Negroni is a sweet and very drinkable aperitif or "opener to a meal”. It is a simple combination of equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. The Campari contributes an intriguing medicinal bitter edge to the drink which I find most satisfying, while the gin adds volume and depth of flavor. Unfortunately, Campari is a somewhat acquired taste, especially to the American Palate, and may not appeal to everyone. Of acquired tastes, Ted Haigh’s book “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails” states:
We, as modern consumers, also still have some work to do. As a culture, we are quickly forgetting how to gain acquired tastes. If something tastes bitter or sharp it is bypassed for an easier-to-contemplate taste sensation. The majority of modern drinks are designed to utterly hide any tang of alcohol, much less the sharp piquant acquired taste of gin – and it’s not just gin we’re talking about either. It’s brandy, whiskey, and tequila, too.
The Negroni is a relatively straightforward cocktail to make. While there are a few variations on the method, the optimum way is to combine one measure each of good quality gin, Campari, and sweet red vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of fresh clean ice. Stir (don’t shake) vigorously with a bar spoon until the ingredients are well chilled and ice begins to form on the vessel. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a burnt orange peel. (see Cosmopolitan post for details of flaming an orange peel). When done correctly, a burst of flame will come from the oils being released from the peel leaving a wonderful fresh aroma and adding a note of orange to the cocktail. Simply drop the twist in the drink.
Variations: Some people like to shake their Negronis, rather than stir them, and enjoy the thin layer of ice crystals that subsequently floats on the surface of the drink. I have no objection to this but personally prefer the clean clear result of stirring. Others like to serve the drink on the rocks or “over” rather than “up”. Again this is a personal choice but the inclusion of ice cubes may dilute the drink if not rapidly consumed. An interesting variation is the addition of Angostura or orange bitters to the mix. Try adding a couple of drops of bitters for a twist on the classic. Enjoy!