Make Mine a Negroni

I can’t get enough of this brightly coloured bitter cocktail, made with equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin. Thankfully, Negroni Week has just begun, which is the perfect excuse for you all to reacquaint yourselves with this exquisite drink – or indeed be bold enough to try one for the first time! ‘Negroni Week’ officially started yesterday, so you have plenty of time to sample your favourite blend.

There is some controversy over who invented Negroni, but I think Count Camillo Negroni (there’s a clue in there somewhere) seems the most plausible. The story goes that his favourite cocktail was then the extremely popular Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda). He asked the bartender at Café Casoni in Florence, Italy, to replace the soda with gin as he had become accustomed to stronger drinks during his cowboy times in America. Soon after his request, everyone else started to demand a ‘Count Negroni’ at Café Casoni, and the cocktail became extremely popular and the name Negroni stuck.

So, in 1919, the classic was born, and it still remains the go-to aperitivo drink amongst many Italians. Unfortunately, Café Casoni has now been replaced by a Roberto Cavalli store with an overly expensive café on site.

Today

You don’t need to be in Florence to enjoy a Negroni (although if you can do that, I am all for it!). It has become a mainstream cocktail now enjoyed by many and served in trendy bars across the globe. Not only do we love the original version, but many have created their own takes on the classic. As the craft gin industry has exploded in recent years, and with so many aged gins on the market, it was always only a matter of time before bars and distilleries started ageing their own mixture of Negroni. The mix is left to mature for a month in small oak barrels (some even up to 12 months – see The Handmade Cocktail Company’s ‘The Negroni’) for a deep and smooth flavour before serving or sometimes bottling for sale. Sacred Gin created a uniquely English Negroni by blending Sacred Gin, Rosehip Cup and Spiced English vermouth. Certainly worth a try, and there are many others that deserve a taste.

One of the tastiest Negronis I’ve had was in London at Mr Foggs Tavern. It was made with Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin, Campari and whisky-barrel-infused Martini Rubino vermouth, garnished with lavender and kaffir lime leaves. Even if their Negroni wasn’t aged in oak, you could still get the oakiness and lovely deep flavour from the Martini Rubino. Just fab!

Don’t worry if you don’t have the taste buds for Negroni yet. I believe it is something you grow into at some point in life, like a good wine. I have a friend who always insisted she didn’t like Negroni (or even an Aperol Spritz for that matter) due to the bitter taste. But with a little work and persuasion, I managed to get her to try it again. After a visit to Italy, where the bitter cocktail is available everywhere during aperitivo hours, she discovered not only did she like the drink, but she actually used the word LOVE to describe her new-found passion for these sexy cocktails (she takes her drink choices very seriously…)

Sexy, you may wonder… Don’t you think there is something different about a person who enjoys a Negroni? Like Count Camillo Negroni, Negroni drinkers are often perceived as strong, confident types, who know what they like and how they like it. Compared to a Cosmopolitan, for example, (does anyone actually order these anymore?) it is a different world. A Cosmo is ordered by girls, but a Negroni is for women.

I’m sure there is an admiration and respect between Negroni lovers and bartenders when you order a Negroni. A barely detectable nod that says you know your drinks. I have come across this a few times, especially when I have been in a bar with my partner, who often prefers mojitos or long drinks; when the drinks are brought to the table everyone automatically assumes the Negroni is for him and the mojito for me. Maybe because he naturally seems such a relaxed guy or maybe they just don’t see so many women drinking Negronis… Either way, when I switch the drinks around I’m sure the bartender delivers an accepting look/nod to show we are part of the secret Negroni gang. Has this happened to you, or perhaps I am just going a little crazy…? It is Negroni Week, after all…

Negroni Week

Negroni Week was launched by Campari in 2013 with the very admirable aim of trying to raise money for various charities across the world. Negroni Week is hugely popular in the US, but this year it has finally made its way to the UK. During the week you should be spoiled for choice as hundreds of bars and restaurants are hosting Negroni-related events, and Negronis and other Campari-based drinks are coming in many shapes and forms.

See the Negroni Week website for events and bars near you. You don’t have to live in London to attend as there are many venues across the country also taking part – or just rock up to your favourite local bar and ask for one (and see if you can spot the knowing glint of bartender approval…).

Negroni Fact #1 When Orson Wells worked in Rome in 1947 he tried his first Negroni and famously said: “The bitters are excellent for your liver; the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”

Negroni Fact #2 Up until 2006, Campari got its bright red colour from carmine dye, obtained from crushed cochineal insects. Yum!

Negroni Fact #3 Italians build the drink directly over the ice it will be served on. Some argue this is the only way to make it.

Negroni Fact #4 Negroni has around 182 calories.

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