You Deserve A Drink: The Negroni

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Though the Negroni never truly faded away, this boozy modification of the great summertime sipper, the Americano, has seen a strong resurgence in popularity since its Italian origins nearly a hundred years ago.  Though bars and blogs flocked to it and its relatives the last few years, it'd be a shame to lump this into the fad or trend category.  It's not.  It's just a really good drink.  And good-on-ya bars and blogs for noticing.  Though not necessarily easy to love, there are a few really good reasons you should, if you haven't already, get to know the Negroni. 

First off, it's easy to make.  Just three ingredients, all the same proportions, ice, orange peel, done.  You can build it in a glass and observe the way it changes in flavor and intensity as it dilutes and cools, or you can stir it to an optimal level of cold/diluted and then serve it up without ice.  Point being, measuring and pouring are the only required skills.  I'm confident you can pull that off, and moreso, I'm also confident that pretty much any bartender can as well, making this a great go-to drink when you're hankering for a cocktail but not at a bar where you trust the talents of the person opposite you.  

Secondly, the Negroni makes you a better drinker.  Whether or not you enjoy it is a great indicator of how much work you and your palate need to be doing.  There's a really good chance that if you don't have much experience with this drink, or Campari drinks in general, your introduction will be a lot like this.  But trust me, it's not the Negroni's fault.  The Negroni is correct.  You aren't.  I know because that's exactly how it worked with me.  I specifically remember hearing about it for the first time while, incidentally, closing down the dive bar I was working at.  It was 3am and I was by myself cleaning up, half watching an episode of No Reservations when I heard Anthony Bourdain talk about this famous, classic cocktail that he loved.  I took note of the ingredients, looked over at the bar I was alone at, realized that all the components were just sitting right there, and so I took the initiative to do a little work education.  I grabbed a bottle of whatever gin (I didn't really know the difference at the time), pulled out the rarely used, likely oxidized bottle of Martini Rossi sweet vermouth, and for the first time in the three years I worked there, poured from the Campari bottle that had apparently existed behind the bar this whole time without me once noticing.  I assembled the drink, took a sip, stopped, then took another sip just to make sure, cursed Bourdain, and threw the drink down the drain.  It was horrible.  Gross and medicinal and bitter.  I had absolutely no idea why anyone would drink that crap.  Then, ironically, I poured myself an extra hoppy IPA and went back to work.  

Luckily, I couldn't leave it at that.  The previous years had seen me learning to love flavors that I didn't at first enjoy (olives, tomatoes, IPA) and I knew that first impressions—and sometimes second, third, or fourth impressions—can be deceiving.  I knew that I needed to give the Negroni a few more tries.  So it did.  I ordered it at bars where I knew I'd get a proper representation of the drink, and I even made a few more for myself that this time I didn't throw away.  Eventually there came a point when everything shifted, and all that was once off-putting about the drink became what drew me to it.  I liked the how bitter and herbal it was and could appreciate the way the gin brightened it all up while the vermouth rounded out the rough edges.  Suddenly the drink had depth and character.  It held my attention and kept me interested the entire time I drank it.  For me, learning to like the Negroni was a lot like learning to enjoy the Blood Brothers back in the early 2000's.  It was like that moment when your mind suddenly finds the melody in what you thought was only noise.  Or for a more classy musical analogy, it's worth noting that there was practically a riot after the first performance of The Rite of Spring.  Thirty years later it scored a Disney cartoon.  Proof you can and should change your tastes to accommodate something great.  

I implore to make a Negroni, then if you don't quite get it, to return to it again and again over the next few weeks.  Eventually all the dissonance will make sense and soon enough you'll return to it not because of task but because of taste.  At that point you'll be able to appreciate the third great thing about this drink: it doesn't get old.  The Negroni doesn't wear itself out.  There's simply too much going on that is too well executed for the drinker to be bored.  Plus, it's as comforting in the winter as it is refreshing in the summer, so it's never out of place.  And if you do get restless with the classic formula, it's still one of the most versatile templates in the world of drinks.  Every component can be replaced or adjusted to form a brand new, delicious beverage in the Negroni's lineage.  To prove it, I Googled "Negroni variations" and here are six websites with variations on the classic.  

Point is, you should get to know the Negroni.  It may take some time to adjust to it, but luckily making one is incredibly easy.  Here's how. 

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 All you need to make one of the better drinks ever is three bottles of booze.  Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin.  I'd recommend keeping it classic and going with a dry gin, something with a lot of juniper in there.  There are some delicious, unique tasting gins out there right now that make interesting and delicious Negronis, but I think it's best to start at the beginning.  I had a bottle of a local dry gin on hand so that's what I used.  The more ubiquitous and not too pricey Beefeater or Tanqueray would do a great job here.  

I really like Dolin as a good tasting, basic, sweet vermouth.  It's cheap too.  Like gin, there are many different avenues to go down here, but it's good to start with a classic.  Nolly Prat is another good choice.  Carpano Antica is delicious but also pretty assertive.  It can smother the Campari a bit, which, depending on your relationship with the amaro, may be exactly what you do or don't want.  

 

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Measure out equal proportions (1 oz) of each and dump them in a glass.  Add some ice and and give it a good stir for fifteen seconds if you plan on serving it on the rocks or thirty seconds if you'll be serving it up.  Campari is at first shockingly bitter, but once your palate learns it a bit the sweetness of the beverage really starts to come through.  Sweetness in drinks is great when they're cold, but once they warm up a bit it can get unpleasantly syrupy.  If you serve your drink up (that is, with no ice) you get the benefit of it never over-diluting when the ice melts, but that comes at the risk of it warming up and the medicinal sweetness taking over.  To counter this you can A) drink faster, or B) make a smaller drink.  At home, I skip this problem and serve it on one big ice cube straight from the freezer.  I personally don't mind if my last sips are a bit too diluted, and in fact have grown to enjoy the way that it eases me out of the drink.  But go with what you like here.

Lastly, you want to bring out the orange flavors in the Campari itself, so cut off a peel of orange and squeeze the outer part of the skin at the drink.  The oils in the skin will shoot out and mottle the surface of your cocktail, making it much more aromatic.  Seeing as how most of flavor is actually perceived as smell, this is really important in taking the drink to the next level.  Once the orange has been "expressed" over the drink, you can either drop it in or throw it out.  I prefer to leave it out when I'm drinking the cocktail sans ice, since it tends to just get in the way.  When I'm working at a bar I generally leave the peel in, mostly as a way to visually assure the guest that, no, I didn't forget the orange, but also because I think seeing the peel guides the brain to that flavor and helps one to perceive the drink first as floral and bright rather than harsh and bitter.  

Really though, that's all just a complicated way of saying, dump, stir, zest, enjoy.   Drinking should be relaxing and social.  So don't take it so seriously it's not fun.  Enjoy exploring new flavors, and have a great time making those taste the best you can.  Have yourself a Negroni.  Cheers.

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