For the first article in this series I’m opting for a stone cold classic and one of my favourite cocktails: the Negroni. Said to have been invented by Count Cammillo Negroni in 1919, this Campari-based drink has long been a quintessential Italian aperativo cocktail, with dry and bitter qualities which make it an ideal pre-dinner drink to whet the appetite. It has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to the resurgence of other aperativo drinks such as Aperol. Though the Negroni is indeed a classic, it is perhaps not to everyone’s tastes so here I include a couple of variations alongside the original.
The original Negroni could not be simpler: equal measures of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, stirred with ice and served on the rocks with orange peel for garnish. There are many vermouths to choose from, but Martini Rosso is probably your best bet. It is widely available and inexpensive, offering a sweet, herbal flavour which perfectly balances the bitter Campari. For the gin, don’t bother wasting money on something in a fancy bottle which is supposed to taste of golf course – Gordon’s will do nicely. Stir it for a decent length of time to allow the flavours to combine and to get some dilution; those new to this drink might want to stir for longer to soften the bitterness. This is an ideal drink for before a meal and goes well alongside bold flavours such as olives or strong cheese.
This drink actually predates the Negroni. The Campari and vermouth are kept the same but gin is omitted and instead the drink is topped up with soda water. The story goes that Count Negroni ordered one of these but wanted gin instead of soda for greater alcohol content. One sympathises. In this older version, the Campari and sweet vermouth once again combine beautifully and make for a superbly bittersweet aperativo. But the addition of soda water means a longer and less dry drink than the Negroni that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. To prepare simply stir together equal measures of Campari and vermouth with a decent amount of ice, top up with soda and garnish with lemon or orange.
Here is my own take on a Negroni-like cocktail. For this you will need a few blackberries and Chambord alongside the Campari and vermouth. Muddle of couple of blackberries in a balloon glass and add up to 15 mls of Chambord. Then add plenty of ice along with 30 mls of sweet vermouth and 45 mls of Campari. Stir well and top with a blackberry and some orange peel. I believe this combination brings out the bittersweet flavour of the Campari particularly well; go easy on the Chambord to avoid the drink becoming too syrupy and stir for long enough to get a good amount of dilution. There’s no gin in this drink so it’s not really a Negroni at all, but the larger measure of Campari ensures it retains its oomph. The summer months are when blackberries are in season so it’s particularly worth trying out at this time of year.