Every now and then in the course of my cocktail explorations, I come across something that I just really don't like, much as I want to. The Negroni is one of those things.
Sure, it's a classic cocktail. It evokes summer evenings in Italy, sipping this blend of gin, Campari, and vermouth on the terrace of your villa. And maybe if I made one under those circumstances, I'd come around. But something about this particular combination of the bitter Campari with the sweet vermouth just does not work for me. Apparently I'm not entirely alone; bartender and blogger Naren Young said of the drink, "There are very few cocktails where the words 'acquired taste' are more appropriate than with the Negroni." I guess I'll just have to keep going to Italy and ordering them until I like them.
But don't let my distaste steer you away from trying this recipe. Many cocktail connoisseurs insist that it is their favorite drink. Maybe it will be yours too.
History: The Negroni was named after its creator, an Italian Count named Camillo Negroni. He was the sort of guy you'd really enjoy swapping tales with over a drink - he'd probably tell you about the time he spent in America gambling and working as a rodeo cowboy. After he returned to Florence, his birthplace, he became friends with the bartender of Caffe Casoni, Fosco Scarselli. One day in 1919 he went to the bar for a drink and asked for the popular Americano cocktail (Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda water) - but, as a cowboy does, he ordered it with gin instead of soda. The rest, as they say, is history; soon all of Florence was ordering their Americanos "the Negroni way."
This story was considered little more than a fable until an Italian bartender named Lucca Picchi researched the tale in depth. His book, Sulle Tracce del Conte: La Vera Storia del Cocktail Negroni ("On the Trail of the Count: The True Story of the Negroni Cocktail") is currently only available in Italian, but it supports the popular story and fleshes out its history. (It's also a great example of just how much history a single cocktail can have; I feel like I could write a pretty entertaining book on any of these.)
In an article for SFGate, Gaz Regan traces the history of the Negroni several cocktails back to its spritous ancestors. The Negroni, as I just explained, was a modification of the Americano. The Americano, in turn, was a "long drink" or "tall drink" version of the Milano-Torino, which was equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth. And this drink was based on the Torino-Milano, which was a mix of Campari and another type of Italian bitters called Amano Cora. When you considering that there are multiple cocktails based on the Negroni (the Old Pal and Boulevardier, for example), you start to see a lineage much like a family tree.
Incidentally, Caffe Casoni is now owned by Roberto Cavalli, and has been renamed Caffe Giacosa. But you can still get a Negroni there.
Negroni1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass or into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange slice.