A cocktail that came into being thanks to a cowboy count, the Negroni with roots in Milan, Turin, and Florence, enjoys a fast-growing revival in bars around the world.
Italy’s campanilismo might never allow for agreement on a national drink, but there is one cocktail, the Negroni, that’s like a liquid postcard from the country’s golden era and its postwar life-is-a-blast sensibility. Think 50s and 60s Rome, with Anita, Marcello, Federico and Sophia, and the economic boom that put Italy on the international map for all things stylish and crave worthy. Gianni Agnelli introduced the Negroni to then first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy when sailing with her along the Amalfi Coast; Orson Welles tried to justify his fondness for the cocktail by saying how the bitters (in the Campari) “are excellent for your liver.” In Thunderball James Bond, the dedicated martini maven, couldn’t resist one. And Andy Warhol’s Interview crowd made Negronis their in-house drink.
The Negroni has been enjoying a revival in the last few years, thanks to some terrific books on the topic like Gary Regan’s The Negroni and The Life Negroni by Nargess and Leigh Banks. But the drink’s simplicity--equal parts Campari, gin, and vermouth--may also be reason for its new popularity, serving as antidote to the craft cocktail mania of the last decade where drinks have required endless exotic ingredients and fancy gadgets to concoct.
In terms of cocktail genealogy, the Negroni is a descendant of another straightforward libation, the Milano-Torino, named for the origins of its two ingredients, Campari, which was produced near Milan, and Cinzano or Punt e Mes for the vermouth from Turin. (Because of its popularity with Americans after WWI the Milano-Torino was dubbed the Americano, which it is called to this day). While the MT may have debuted in the 1860s, around the time Campari was first produced, the cocktail became widely known when served at the Campari family’s Caffe Camparino in Milan’s Galleria, a favorite watering hole of Futurist Umberto Boccioni.
Despite its northern roots, the Negroni itself was born in Florence and the drink’s backstory is far more complicated than the ingredient list. According to lore (nicely recounted in Regan’s book and another title, Sulle Tracce del Conte: La Vera Storia del Cocktail Negroni by Lucca Picchi), Camillo Negroni, an Italian count and former cowboy adventurer in America’s Wild West (you couldn’t make this stuff up), sat down one day at the Caffe Casoni (now Florence’s Caffe Giacosa owned by Roberto Cavalli) and asked the bartender to punch up the Americano by adding gin. Not surprisingly, the drink quickly found a following and in homage to its creator was called Negroni. The cocktail became so popular that the Negroni family went on to create a distillery in Treviso in 1919 to make a pre-mixed version of it.
While researchers have questioned whether Negroni was a count (his grandfather was and in the Italian aristocracy certain titles could be inherited by more than one male heir), and whether he was the Negroni to create the drink--the family of General Pascal-Olivier de Negroni, a native of Corsica, has claimed he was--both Regan and Picchi come down on the side of the cowboy count.
While the history may be complex, the cocktail’s straightforward recipe means most anyone can whip up a decent one. But to make a perfect Negroni (and a few popular variations), we asked Stefano Santucci, head Barman at the legendary Hassler in Rome, where the drink is among the popular ordered today, for his tips.
Classic Negroni. “Use the oldest products out there--1/3 Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, 1/3 Campari Bitter, 1/3 Beefeater London Dry Gin 1820. Garnish with an orange peel.”
For variations, Santucci recommends:
Negroni Sbagliato. “Substitute prosecco for the gin.”
Negroski (Negroni with a Russian twist). 1/3 Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, 1/3 Campari Bitter, 1/3 Purity Vodka, garnished with an orange peel.
Perfect Hassler Negroni. 1/3 Hendricks Gin, 1/3 Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, 1/3 Campari Bitter. Serve with an orange peel, cucumber slice and black pepper.
THE NEGRONI, AMALFI STYLE
Ivan Stankovic, bar manager at the Monastero Santa Rosa, a luxury property in Conca dei Marini, brings the flavors of the Amalfi coast to this classic drink.
Negroni Alla Verbena
“The Negroni alla Verbena was created to blend the herbal flavors of the Monastero Santa Rosa garden with the varied notes of Vermouth Carpano Antica, which is made with Piedmontese and full-bodied Southern Italian wines. The vanilla, orange, star anise, and dates were added to represent Greek and Roman cultures, whose influences are still felt on the Amalfi Coast today.”
3 cl. gin infused with verbena leaves*
2.5 cl Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
2.5 cl of Campari Bitter
2 dashes of house-made dry orange bitters**
Garnish: Orange zest/peel and verbena leaves
Cool an Old Fashioned glass with ice and remove excess water. Pour the ingredients into the glass and add two drops of dry orange bitters. Stir gently, mixing with a bar spoon. To finish, add a splash of verbena soda and garnish with zest and leaves.
*TO MAKE THE VERBENA-INFUSED GIN
Infuse 1 bottle of gin (75 cl.) with 10 g. of verbena leaves. Store in a refrigerator at 5° C (40 F) for 30 minutes. Filter the mixture by removing the leaves. The result will be a light green liquid.
**TO MAKE ORANGE BITTERS
Infuse 15 cl. dark rum with 5 g. of orange peel and 3 g. Muntok white pepper (from Indonesia ) and set aside for one week. After four days, add 1 g. of cloves and 2 stars of star anise. On the last day (before filtration), pour the liquid into a pot and boil for 15 minutes at 60 ° C (140 F). Filter and store in a glass bottle.
***PREPARATION OF VERBENA SODA
Cook 25 g. of verbena leaves in 1 liter of distilled water for 20 min at 60 C (140 F). Let cool, then pour into a soda siphon (with two CO2 cartridges) and store in the refrigerator.
Smoked Rosemary and Cinnamon Negroni
This pungent cocktail, softened with honey and cinnamon, goes well with fish and cheese. It can also be served an alternative to wine.
3 cl vodka infused with lemon peel
2.5 cl of Rosso Antico (spiced wine)
2.5 cl of Campari Bitter
3 tbsp of honey and cinnamon cordial*
Garnish: lemon and lime zest, cinnamon stick, and mint
Smoked Old-Fashioned glass with rosemary and cinnamon
Smoke an Old Fashioned glass with rosemary and pieces of cinnamon for a minute. (Use a smoking gun.) Leave the glass upside down with smoke inside. Then chill the glass with ice. Add a cinnamon stick, draining the excess water. Add 3 tbsp of honey and cinnamon cordial, then the vodka, Rosso Antico, and Campari. Stir ingredients gently and decorate with lemon, lime zest, and mint.
*FOR THE CINNAMON CORIDAL
Boil ½ liter of water and 4 cinnamon sticks for 10 min., whisking in 350 g. of white sugar until it has melted. Chill the mixture and pour into a sterilized glass bottle.
NOTES: “Instead of traditional vermouth, we use "Rosso Antico" with its flavors of bitter-sweet citrus and Gentiana notes. We replace gin with lemon-infused vodka and honey. (The lemons we use for the infusion are the famous Sfusato Amalfitano variety, from which limoncello is made. They have an intense aroma and are rich in essential oils.) The honey is produced locally, from farmers in Ravello and Scala. All these ingredients allow us to create a versatile aperitivo.
THE NEGRONI, VENETIAN STYLE
“A Negroni has always been my favorite pre-dinner cocktail,” says executive chef Vincenzo di Tuoro at the newly opened San Clemente Palace Kempinski in Venice. ”But when I moved to India two years ago, there were no bars there serving it. One day, I told my team in the kitchen about this famous Italian aperitivo and they were very curious to try it. Unfortunately there was no Campari available, but the day before we had prepared a pre-dessert for the Italian restaurant in the hotel that contained an Aperol-pomegranate granita. So we filled a martini glass with the granita and then poured vermouth and gin over it, and to add a bit of a sweet finish, I added the candied orange crumble to the rim. Perfect!"
Negroni San Clemente Palace Kempinski
Equal parts Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth and Bombay Saphire Gin infused with juniper berries.* Pour into a Martini glass containing the Aperol-grapefruit granita** and rim the glass with candied orange crumble.***
*TO MAKE GIN INFUSED WITH JUNIPER BERRIES
60 ml Bombay Saphire
3 crushed juniper berries
Add berries to the gin. Keep infused (covered) at room temperature for 12 hours.
**TO MAKE APEROL AND GRAPEFRUIT GRANITA
1lt. pink grapefruit juice
1.5 lt. water
200 gm sugar
100 gm Aperol
2 grapefruit zest (with no white part)
Mix water, sugar and zest, then heat to 82 degrees Celsius (or 180 degrees Fahrenheit). Remove from heat and keep mixture infused until cooled to room temperature. Strain and remove the zest.
Mix the infused syrup with juice and Aperol. Keep in deep freezer until solid. Grate the flavored ice with a fork, than use a soup spoon to create a nicely shaped sphere to place in the center of a glass.
***TO MAKE THE ORANGE CRUMBLE:
250 gm almond flour
250 gm Flour 00
250 gm butter
250 gm sugar
100 gm candied orange zest
Blend all the ingredients in a mixer. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Cook at 160 degrees Celsius (or 320 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes, stirring with a spatula every 10 minutes. You will get a crumbly consistency. When golden brown, remove and cool to room temperature.