AT THE GALA launch party for the 2011 Manhattan Cocktail Classic (MCC) on Friday, May 13, Italian aperitif brand Campari announced that 2011 (or what’s left of it) is “The Year of the Negroni.” The classic cocktail (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari) first appeared in Italy around 1919, vanishing into obscurity from the 1950s until the late 1990s. Now, thanks in part to the Cocktail Revolution and the Negroni’s elegant simplicity, it is a featured drink at many bars around the country and around the world.
“My love affair with the Negroni started in 1990 and was confirmed in ’93 when Dale DeGroff made me one,” says Las Vegas bartender/consultant Tony Abou-Ganim (and author of “The Modern Mixologist). Abou-Ganim was the featured bartender at the MCC event, pouring hundreds of Negronis as the 3,000 guests filed in.
“When I moved to Las Vegas in 1998, I brought along my love of the Negroni, but very few people knew about it. To them, Campari was ‘that bitter red stuff.’ I’d do a Negroni Test, going into a nice lounge and ordering one. I’d get responses like, ‘We don’t carry Negroni, would you like a Peroni [beer]?'”
Eventually the classic drink gained notoriety as bartenders and tipplers re-discovered Old Fashioneds, Sazeracs and Manhattans. “Responses to my test eventually morphed from ‘yeah, I’ve heard of that to now when they ask what gin and even what sweet vermouth I prefer.”
Despite the fact the Negroni is a simple drink to make, like the Martini, it can be easily screwed up. “The balance can be the trickiest element,” says Abou-Ganim. “It might be on speed-pour in a bar and sit around for six months. Each gin and each vermouth has subtle differences. I was with friends the other day and one gentleman said he prefers 2 parts gin, 1 part Campari and 1 part vermouth. That’s a personal decision.” Aficionados also debate the pros and cons of shaking versus stirring (or “throwing”) the cocktail, along with the merits of an orange or lime peel to finish things off.
“While I might put a little extra Campari in, because I have a soft spot for it,” says Abou-Ganim, “I really think equal parts is a beautiful balance and marriage of those three ingredients.The cocktail is one of those beautiful accidents that became the beautiful blend of three flavors I don’t think can be improved with tweaking.”
The Classic Negroni
- 1 1/2 oz London Dry Gin (like Plymouth or Tanqueray)
- 1 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth (Antica Formula, Cinzano Rosso or European-strength Dubbonet Rouge)
- 1 1/2 oz Campari
- Wide Orange Peel (best if removed with a wide citrus or vegetable peeler)
Combine all three ingredients in an Old Fashioned glass with cube ice (the larger the better). Stir gently. You can also combine in a shaker with ice to aerate and dilute, and pour over fresh ice, or “throw” it the way the Spanish do. The orange peel can be flamed, or the oils squeezed gently over the drink in a mist, then rubbed around the rim before laying the peel atop the drink.
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