A drink for Autumn: the Negroni
At the wind whips at us with its chill flails, the blustery wet drizzle envelops our heads as we peraumbulate along the streets of downtown, as the night glows into the dawn with a dull damp violet cloud — we’re gonna need a drink to ward off the misery of the season. So I present to you the mulled-wine of the cocktail family: The Negroni.
It seems there are not a lot of people who will admit to a fondness for Campari. Indeed it was not two nights ago that a drinking companion of mine brayed something incoherent about “earwax” when the dreaded C-word was mentioned during a free-ranging session over at mine. However, for all its perceived sins, without Campari you would not have a Negroni.
It is the Campari that is the medicinal “bitter” and provides the characteristic flavor of the Negroni. A little background: according to my sources, Compari was concocted by Gaspare Campari in the 1850s. Gaspare, at only age 14, was the master drink maker at the Bass Bar in Turin, which was the commercial center for aperitifs at the time. Campari is made with natural ingredients that include herbs, spices, bark and fruit peels. The exact formula is of course a highly guarded secret. And as far as the Negroni is concerned, as with all great cocktails stories differ, but the most popular account of its origin is that Count Camillo Negroni, a Florentine aristocrat, decided one day to add some bite to his favorite drink, the Americano. He had the bartender add gin. From that time on he ordered the same drink every day. Eventually the bartender named the drink after him.
The Negroni. Complex. Spicy. Bitter, although not overly so. The tiniest bit of sweetness to offset that. It’s a drink to warm a cold breast. It’s a perfect aperitif, a drink to wake up your taste buds and shout “Ciao, ragazzo bello! Come stai?”. And the colour! The rich brown and deep red tones seem to glow with soft light and autumnal hues. Hold one near a light and your Negroni will erupt in orange novas. It’s the obvious drink-of-Autumn for a Wellingtonista.
So to a recipe. Your classic Negroni will consist of — and only of — equal parts Campari, sweet red vermouth (Martini Rossi), and gin (any variety of Tanquerey would be my preference, OR for slight variation King William’s Lemon Geneva style gin from Purangi Estate, Mercury Bay). Mix (stir, for god’s sake, stir!) in a tumbler with plenty of ice, and serve in a chilled cocktail glass with a twist of orange and some flambÃƒÂ©d orange-peel oil across the top of the drink.
Properly made, the sweetness of the vermouth will perfectly balance out the astringency of the gin and the bitterness of the Campari. A special version of this drink doubles the amount of Campari and adds two dashes of orange bitters (Fee’s or Regans’) — it works beautifully, and wakes up the tongue even more. And for an extra-special drink, use a Carpano’s Punt E Mes or Antica Formula, two top-shelf sweet vermouths that add a wonderful layer of spice. Another variant involving Dubonnet exists, but why taint our collective palate in that way?
Finally, as we must provide succour to the weary, wind-blown Wellingtonistas, from whence can one obtain a superlative Negroni? My vote goes to Motel, where I have always been served Negronis of utterly sublime concoction (actually I have never, ever, ever had a bad cocktail made there). I can quite imagine, given the quintessential Italian nature of the drink, that Boulot and Scopa may be relied upon to furnish one with a Negroni of impeccable character. Others may wish to add their own recommendations.
Negroni, Puttanesca: Heaven on earth
I can’t believe I omitted to mention: and SO quaffable, too.