A couple of weeks ago, there was only one cocktail on my mind – the Negroni.
You see, Sept 14 to 20 was Negroni Week, an international charity initiative that takes place every year, during which bars, restaurants and retailers around the world come together to celebrate this iconic drink while also raising money for charitable initiatives.
This year, however, the Covid-19 pandemic put a spanner in the works, and Campari, the organiser of the event alongside international beverage publication Imbibe, had to resort to a very different sort of Negroni Week.
Internationally, charitable efforts for Negroni Week 2020 concentrated on raising funds to support the hospitality industry, with donations going to hospitality charities via the Negroni Week website.
In Malaysia, Campari collaborated with local distributors Wholly Spirits on a special Negroni Week set, with a portion of the proceeds going to a local charity initiative instead.
Now, just because Negroni Week is over, it doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy this classic cocktail. In fact, it is actually one of the easiest drinks you can make at home, comprising equal parts of just three ingredients – gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari – stirred together with ice, and garnished with an orange peel.
But that’s not all – I was also surprised to see just how many different ways the drink can be interpreted and made. Here are some common Negroni variants, starting with a couple of drinks that predate the actual drink.
One of the earliest “ancestors” of the Negroni, this drink is made by mixing equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth. Also sometimes referred to as a “Mi-To” the name is derived from the cities Milan and Turin, which are the cities Campari and Punt e Mes (the sweet vermouth that was initially used for the drink) originated from.
First served in 1860 in Gaspare Campari’s cafe in Milan, this bitter and sweet combination turned out to be a hit, and soon variants of the drink started appearing, one of which was the Americano.
We’re now taking another step closer to the Negroni. Made with equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water (you can add more of this as well), this is a refreshing tall drink that is perfectly balanced between sweet and bitter, and super easy to make too.
Also created by Gaspare Campari, the Americano is considered the “father” of the Negroni. Fun fact: it is also the first ever drink ordered by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale.
The Negroni is said to have been created around 1919 in Florence, Italy, at Caffe Rivoire. It was inspired by Count Camillo Negroni, who’d asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to make his favourite drink, the Americano, stronger, so Scarselli decided to replace the soda water with gin and add an orange slice as garnish so people would know it was a different drink.
That iconic mixture of equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and gin results in a blood red drink that is sweet and bitter, but nicely held together by the gin, and perfectly balanced as well.
Its simplicity also makes it easy to make Negronis using different spirits, including Rum Negronis, Mezcal Negronis, and so on.
This drink is almost exactly the same as a Negroni, but with one major difference – it uses bourbon or American rye whiskey instead of gin. This makes for a richer, more full-bodied drink with more complex flavours that change depending on the whiskey you use.
The creation of this drink is attributed to American writer Erskine Gwynne, the founder of a Parisian magazine called Boulevardier in the 1920s, and was originally mixed for him by Harry MacElhone of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris.
Just replace the sweet vermouth with dry vermouth, and voila! You’ve got a drier, arguably less sweet version of the Negroni.It’s interesting to see just how integral the sweet vermouth is to the Negroni though, as without it, the bitterness of the Campari takes charge of the flavour profile, and the texture of the drink is understandably drier and somehow doesn’t encourage you to drink as much or as fast as you would with a normal Negroni.
As the name suggests, this is a Negroni without its signature red colour. This was apparently invented by a British bartender called Wayne Collins back in 2001, who was asked to make some Negronis, but didn’t have any Campari or sweet vermouth. So he decided to use two classic French aperitifs instead, namely Suze and Lillet Blanc.
Suze is a gentiane liqueur made from the maceration and distillation of gentian root and other botanicals in a fortified wine base, while Lillet Blanc is a kind of aperitif known as “tonic wine”, because it contains quinine, and is best known as the essential ingredient for James Bond’s favourite drink, the Vesper.
With the Suze replacing the Campari as the bitter element of this drink, you get a more herbaceous note to this drink, and also a significantly less sweet drink as well.
This is kind of like the Ame-ricano, but instead of soda, sparkling wine is used (usually prosecco).
The sparkling wine gives more body to the drink than soda, so this is a great refreshing drink for someone who wants a lighter Negroni but doesn’t want an Americano either.
This drink was created at Bar Basso in Milan in the late 1980s, by Italian bartender Mirko Stocchetti, who accidentally used a bottle of sparkling wine instead of gin while making a Negroni. This is probably the reason for the name – Sbagliato means “mistaken” or “error” in Italian.
Want to have a Negroni but also a beer at the same time? Why not put it in the same drink? Made the same way as a Negroni, but topped up with lager beer, this makes for a pretty interesting drink.
One of the more common recipes for this drink involves the Italian lager called Peroni, but you can probably use any lager beer for this. The slightly sharper hoppy flavours in many commercial lagers actually make for a nice contrast with the actual Negroni.
Michael Cheang was all Negroni-ed out during Negroni Week. Contact him on Facebook, Instagram (@MyTipsyTurvy) or Twitter (@MichaelCheang).
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