The second week of September marks Negroni Week, a global initiative to raise money for charity by highlighting a beverage second only to the martini in the craft cocktail world-the bold and strong Negroni. As I celebrate this week, my mind wandered toward some thoughts about the cocktail itself, and ways to get more people to enjoy it.
The casual drinker or home bartender usually does well to start with shaken, sour-style cocktails-2 parts gin, one part lemon, and one-part sweet simple syrup. These drinks are shaken and diluted, rapidly infused with bright citrus that’s been mellowed with sugar syrup. The heat of the alcohol itself transforms into a supporting cast member. Bright lemon and silky sweetness are the stars of the show.
The other end of the cocktail spectrum is universally described as “spirit-forward”. These drinks are never shaken but stirred until chilled. Much less water is introduced into the cocktail (water is the most vital part of any drink, for the record) and the flavor and boldness of the spirits are right in front. It’s unfortunate that first experiences with spirit forward cocktails are often either out of context (when you expect a gin and lemonade and get something like gin and bitterness, nobody is pleased) or they’re made with poor ingredients (many bars still don’t properly store and handle vermouth, a wine-based ingredient with a shelf life of weeks.)
To add to the confusion and grimacing faces, scores of people who love a good gin sour or Tom Collins have never tried a spirit straight from the bottle. When they do, their first reaction is usually to recoil from the heat and wait for the slight pain to pass.
I urge you, step into the blaze because there’s a gift for you right behind it. Hiding just past that first wave of fire across the palate lies a paradise of aromatics, secondary flavors, and nuances that can be contemplated and reexamined infinitely, to great pleasure.
Notes on the Negroni
Many classic cocktails have had huge gaps in history, but the Negroni survived well and actually has some bona fide lore based in reality. The drink seems to be a volley between America and Italy- The Milano Torino (Campari and Vermouth in equal parts) has been enjoyed for centuries in northern Italy. America was the creator of the Vermouth Cocktail- vermouth, soda and bitters, known in Italy as the Americano. Count Camilo Negroni (what proper irony that the namesake was bestowed with nobility from the Italian crown) an Italian Cowboy instructed his bartender to fortify his Americano with gin. The combination somehow gained traction is Paris (a humorist joked that a section of France was made up of equal parts gin, Campari and vermouth).
3 Royal Steps to Appreciating Spirit Forward Cocktails
Highclere Castle Gin
Sweet Vermouth-an Italian wine fortified w herbs and botanicals
Campari-a scarlet red, bitter Italian apertif spirit
Julep Strainer or Hawthorne strainer*
*I have made many negronis directly in a rocks glass, stirred only with a cocktail pick or chopstick. The results were wonderful. Proceed as you see fit
1: Begin with The Noble
The Noble is Highclere Castle Gin in its purest form, and I find it the best way to begin appreciating spirits in their natural state. Start by pouring about 2 ounces of our gin into your glass. Bring the glass to your chin, and take a whiff. Raise the glass to your lips, and take another. Finally, bring the glass to right beneath your nostrils for a final inhale. Sip just a bit of gin, enough to coat the palate, and inhale once again. By now, you will have picked out a few scents and aromatics. Next, add a few drops of water to the glass. Watch as the viscous oils form in beautiful little ripples. You’ve just introduced literally hundreds of chemical reactions to the liquid by the addition of water. Finally. Add 2-3 ice cubes to your glass, and take a larger sip of the liquid.
2: Taste the modifiers
Getting the palate used to flavors it doesn’t often encounter is truly the key to appreciating classic cocktails. Follow the noble procedure with the vermouth and the Campari. If you like one more than the other upon first taste, keep that in mind when making your cocktail.
3: Make A Negroni Cocktail
Add equal parts (3/4 of an ounce, traditionally) to your mixing glass. Add ice and stir until you feel a chill on your fingers. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with an orange peel, squeezing it over the drink to release precious oils.
This drink is one of my favorites to have before a meal, as the bitter notes really prime the senses for the feast to come. The notes of vanilla in the sweet vermouth embrace the dancing bright botanicals of our gin. As the ice melts, the bitterness of the Campari mellows.
Bonus (optional, include if you like. I can flesh this out some more or dedicate an entire blog to my favorite places):
My Favorite Negroni Bar
Amor y Amargo is a craft cocktail bar in the East Village of New York City that takes its name from a phrase meaning “love and bitterness.” The bar is known for its creative, artisanal cocktails, and the Negroni is a staple on the menu.
Owner Sother Teague has a particular affinity for the component that bitterness adds to spirits, cocktails and the indispensable duo of rejuvenators, coffee and tea. (Oh, how much less would get done on both sides of the pond without our respective “cuppa”)