Let’s be straight from the top. There is a good chance that the Negroni is not the drink for you. Having mixed the 90-year-old classic for many house callers over the years, on top of batching pitchers for summer barbecues and Super Bowl hoedowns, I’ve uttered the same two words over and over and over again: acquired taste. It was around 1920 when Count Camillo Negroni christened the drink at the Caffè Casoni in Florence. A well-known fan of the bottle, Negroni—as the story goes—wanted to punch up the popular Americano and asked his favorite bartender to fix him something a a little different.
The result is a supremely dry and bitter ticker-tape parade on the taste buds. Three components—all equal parts—combine for a complex marriage. Campari is the anchor. It’s a mysterious spirit, bottled in such a deep shade of red that beetle blood was once rumored to be one of the main ingredients. (Fact: Not true). The secretive Milanese producers will only say the complex aperitif is made from 60 herbs, spices and fruit peels.* Sweet vermouth and gin (the Count’s crucial addition) rounds out the drink. I prefer to use a soft, less juniper-leaning gin like Plymouth — as not to offset the herbaceous kick from the Campari. The vermouth should also not overpower. I prefer Vya over Carpano Antica.
Shaken or served on the rocks and always garnished with an orange twist, the drink starts overwhelmingly bitter — like your palate has jumped into an icy plunge pool. It finishes sweeter as the gin takes control. And even though there is a chance the first Negroni will be your last, if you dig it, you DIG IT. And as far as I can tell, the mixology community digs it — having created hundreds of variations over the last year alone. Bourbon, cognac and even mezcal have been substituted to surprising results. During Negroni Week, we will reveal a new recipe every day. And though the original may be an acquired taste for many, there’s likely a version for you. There’s even one with vodka, kay.
* Our investigation into the origins and production of this fascinating, confounding, spirit is to be continued.
Check back every day for a new Negroni recipe:
Tuesday: The Parisian Negroni