Booze Banter: 10 facts about the Negroni
They say that the Negroni is to the noughties what the Cosmopolitan was to the 90s – that is, a mixology icon. But how much do you know about this classic Italian aperitivo?
The classic Negroni is made with equal measures of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, and despite being over a century old, still reigns supreme on many cocktail menus around the world. We looked at the history of the serve and what has lead to its status as one of the most-loved cocktails in the on- and off-trade.
Keep reading for our ultimate Negroni history lesson.
1. Where and when?
Starting things off at the beginning, the Negroni was first conceived back in 1919, by a bartender who wasn’t shy of a bit of self importance, naming the equal parts serve after himself (though it wasn’t him that actually came up with the recipe).
It is said that the eponymous Count Camillo Negroni asked a bartending friend of his, Forsco Scarselli, to ‘enhance’ his Americano, which was supposedly his favourite cocktail. Scarselli obliged and replaced one of the drink’s main components with a stronger ingredient – soda water for gin – and swapped out the lemon slice garnish for one from an orange.
There have been a few other claims brought forward by others who say the Negroni was their invention, such as the family of General Pascal Olivier de Negroni, who say he invented the drink in Senegal in 1857, but we’re yet to see any evidence of that one.
We’ve covered the when and the why, now onto the where. The answer is, of course, Scarselli’s place of work: Caffè Casoni, located in Florence, Italy. The bar still existed until 2017 under a different name: Gaicasa Café (though it was sometimes referred to as Café Cavalli due to its location adjacent to the Italian designer’s flagship boutique). However new ownership of the building ended its historic tenure, though many of the staff that had worked there (serving endless Negronis, no doubt) can now be found at Caffè Lietta, which is owned by Roberto Cavalli’s grandchildren. The legacy continues…
3. How many?
What is said to be the biggest menu of Negroni variations in the world was launched on Monday in honour of Negroni Week (12-18 September).
The 41-strong drinks list comprises 13 gin-based Negronis; three made with a variety of whiskies; four that use agave-spirits as their base and one that comes in the form of a jello shot. It’s available throughout the celebrations, but those in the know can request serves from it beyond Negroni Week.
Negroni fans: this is your sign to get yourself to Tennessee.
4. The biggest
Earlier this week the Guinness World Records book received a new entry for the biggest Negroni ever created.
The record now belongs to Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok hotel, which mixed up a more than 167-gallon take on the aperitivo. The cocktail officially measures 633.65 litres, beating the previous record holder by 129.65 litres.
The recipe called for equal measures of Bulldog London Dry Gin, Campari bitters, and Cinzano 1757 Rosso Vermouth. The vessel holding the liquid was a purpose-built 5.5 foot by 4.5 foot acrylic container surrounded by ice. It was so large, the drink had to be prepared and displayed in the bar’s outdoor garden.
It has not been confirmed whether this has all been consumed yet.
5. The most expensive
Hey big spender – looking to splash the cash? This vintage Negroni has your name all over it.
Glamorous Sydney drinking den Maybe Sammy offers a selection of classic cocktails made with vintage spirits to appeal to drinkers looking for a sophisticated, nostalgic serve. Martin Hudak, the bar’s co-owner, mixes Gordon’s Dry Gin from the 1970s with 1970s Campari and 1960s Carpano Vermouth to craft a Vintage Negroni that clocks in at AU$150 (US$100) and is thought to be the most expensive Negroni in the world.
The late cocktail writer, bartender and bitters maker Gary Regan, better known as Gaz, once had to stir Negronis for 20 people, and to speed things up, he used his finger for the task. The crowd went wild for it, and it became his signature. Now in a post-Covid world it probably isn’t wise for other bartenders to adopt this technique, but if you’re at home and your hands are clean we say go for it.
Or you could get yourself a specially made stirrer which has been made from a cast of Gaz’s finger – yes it’s odd to keep a cast of someone’s body part in your home bar, but it is a lot more hygienic.
7. Different names
What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to a Negroni, it is gin that’s in that particular name, but if you’re looking to create a Negroni using a different spirit, there’s a name for that, too.
Whisky fans can opt to swap the traditional botanical spirit out for their favourite Bourbon to create a Boulevardier, or adding in a rye whiskey will create an Old Pal. For those looking for a Negroni ‘Tucci-style’ (with vodka instead of gin), you’ll need to order a Negroski, while those favouring Tequila as their lead spirit should ask their bartender to stir them up a Rosita.
8. Dedicated gins
The choice of gin for a Negroni is a very important one, and not something that should be taken lightly. Being an equal-parts drink means that the gin will be doing a third of the heavy lifting, and low-quality gins will have nowhere to hide, so prioritising quality is key.
Most commonly it is dry gins that are used in the cocktail, as they have the ability to soften the bitterness and create harmony between the three ingredients. London Dry gins tend to work particularly well, but when in doubt, we say go for a gin that was made with the Negroni in mind. Earlier this summer, Stuzzi launched its Negroni gin that has been distilled with a medley of botanicals to create the ‘definitive’ Negroni, including candied Sicilian orange, bergamot, lavender and cinnamon, before being cut with Yorkshire water.
Meanwhile Four Pillars has created a Master medal-winning Spiced Negroni Gin that is highly aromatic, rich and (yes) spicy, with great power and intensity. The Australian brand used West African spice grains of paradise and Indonesian cubeb to up the flavour ante, and make sure it holds up against the bitters and vermouth.
9. Negroni Week
In case you missed it, we’re currently in the middle of Negroni Week, the annual celebration of the popular Italian cocktail that was founded in 2013 by Imbibe Magazine. But do you know why it was founded, and where?
The story goes that the week was inspired by an industry party and fundraiser called the Negroni Social, which aimed to raise money to help those affected by a huge tornado that caused major destruction in Oklahoma in May 2013.
The event was hosted in Portland, Oregon (yes, Italy might be the cocktail’s birthplace, but it has basically adopted Portland as its spiritual home), with US$1 from each Negroni sold at the bars that week being donated to the Red Cross. The popularity of that fundraiser had a snowball effect, and now thousands of bars around the world take part every year.
10. Environmental impact
Not to get all serious on you, but according to the Sustainable Restaurant Association, the hospitality sector is responsible for 15% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The good thing is that as far as cocktails go, the Negroni’s environmental impact is relatively low, producing 206g of CO2e per drink in comparison to the 690g of CO2e created per Piña Colada, according to Alliance Online.
This can be improved by creating your Negroni using locally sourced ingredients – a gin from that boutique distillery down the road, a sustainable vermouth from your local vineyard, orange peel left over from your morning OJ.
Rachael Kiss, marketing and online manager at Alliance Online, said: “There are a number of ways you can reduce your carbon footprint, from shopping with local distilleries to cutting down on food waste. All these small steps can have a big impact and they won’t just benefit the environment either — you may find that you save a bit of money by using up leftovers. Your brand image might get a boost too, as more customers are choosing to shop with eco-friendly brands than ever before.”