One of the classic Italian cocktails, a Negroni is addictive. Once you start drinking them, it becomes a favorite. My husband is a Negroni addict, annoying bartenders by ordering a drink they don’t know. More than once we have talked a bartender through the construction of this cocktail, as they indulge our desire for this obscure libation. Little do they realize that this drink has been around longer than they have, and is enjoyed worldwide. I’ve never run into this problem on our Italy tours, bars there are well-familiar with this cocktail and always have Campari on hand – these bitter liquors are much more popular there than here in the US.
The key ingredient to a Negroni is Campari, an alcoholic aperitif infused with herbs and fruit, including chianetto – a small bitter orange. Campari was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, who was experimenting with new beverages. It is customary in Italy to end a meal with a bitter ‘digestif’ to settle one’s stomach. Gaspare Campari created a bitter digestif to be enjoyed before a meal, as an aperitif. In 1904, the company Campari opened it’s first production plant in Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. Under Gaspare’s son, Davide, Campari was exported overseas. Today, Campari is distributed in over 190 countries and the essential ingredient in many a cocktail, including the Americano (vermouth, campari, and soda), the Garibaldi and the simple Campari and soda or Campari and orange juice.
It is commonly believed that the Negroni was created in 1919 at Cafe Casoni in Florence, when Count Camillo Negroni ordered an Americano “strengthened” with gin rather than the usual soda water. The bartender, Fosco Scarselli, added an orange garnish instead of the usual lemon, to distinguish it from the Americano. As the cocktail gained popularity, the Negroni family opened Negroni Distillerie in Treviso, and produced a ready-made version of the cocktail, Antico Negroni 1919.
1 ounces gin (mild flavor)
1 ounce campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, with several cubes of ice. Shake, and pour into a martini glass if serving straight, or a highball glass if on the rocks. Garnish with a slice of orange.
Use a mild flavored gin. We tested this with a new gin, locally produced Cold River Gin, from Freeport, Maine. This is produced from Maine potatoes, and has a very distinctive flavor. It would be wonderful in the right drink, but a Negroni is not the right vehicle for it. The combination of the botanicals in the Cold River gin and the bitterness of the Campari was a bit much. We made a second version with good old Gordon’s Gin, and we liked the result much better.
The bitterness of Campari can be an acquired taste for some. A less-pronounced version of this, which my husband still prefers, dilutes the bitter Campari with a bit more gin, 2 parts gin to 1 part campari and 1 part vermouth.