All hail the negroni, king of the equal-parts cocktail. But what is a negroni at its core? Who could have come up with something so … perfect?
Refreshing but spirit-forward, bright but stirred. Dry, bracing, and refined, the negroni was invented roughly around 1920 in Florence, Italy, by a man bearing the name of—you guessed it—Negroni.
Camillo Negroni was a count, born into a wealthy family to an Italian father and an English mother. He was also a world traveler and, at various times, apparently a cowboy, a fencer, and a gambler. Also, he was a consummate drinker.
This Count Negroni happened to stop at a bar every day—he was a regular. That bar was the Grand Hotel in Florence, but he was known to often visit his friend, a bartender at the now-shuttered Caffè Casoni, before heading to the Grand Hotel. It was likely there his namesake drink was created.
The Inception of the Beloved Negroni
Some context: at the time, Europe was flush with Americans left over from World War I or just being super-cool expats. These Americans became the inspiration for the drink nicknamed the americano—made with Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda—since Americans liked this blend of Italian apéritifs with a little splash of soda to make it more refreshing.
This is all just to say that at some point, Count Negroni decided he would have none of that. He needed something stronger.
As the story goes, Negroni asked his friend at Caffè Casoni to make him something with a little moreoomph. The oomph, on this particular day, was gin. Soon, everyone in town wanted their Americano “the Negroni way,” and here we are. History!
But What Is a Negroni and Why Is It So Great?
Many a bartender will quickly and unhesitatingly identify the negroni as their favorite cocktail. But why? Is it because it’s easy to make? Easy to remember the measurements (one to one to one)? Made with ingredients that are relatively easy to come by? Or is it something more complicated?
Sometimes, ordering a negroni is just a big relief for everyone. The bartender is relieved (or should be—this cocktail order functions as a good litmus test for whether your bartender has a clue) because the order is a simple and respectable one. You’re relieved because you know exactly what you’re getting, and you’re about to be drinking something so perfectly balanced—sweet, a little herbaceous, bitter, and refreshing. What could possibly be better than a negroni when you’re not sure what exactly you’re in the mood for?
The answer is nothing. Order that negroni.
You should be able to order a negroni basically anywhere, but below are a few standouts:
Where to Order a Negroni
Scofflaw, Chicago, IL
If you love—or even like or even dislike—gin, you’re in safe hands at Scofflaw. The guys behind the stick at this gin-focused cocktail bar are very knowledgeable about the clear spirit, which is available in a surprising number of varieties. They will respect your negroni order but, given the freedom, might play with it. You could even try a white negroni. But don’t go too nuts. We’re dealing in classics here.
Wisdom, Washington, DC
Wisdom claims to possess the largest gin selection of any bar in the DC-MD-VA area. All the more gins to negroni with. The flavor profile of a gin can hugely affect the final flavor of a negroni—summon one of the bartenders, and they’ll almost certainly regale you with the many intricacies of gin.
The Broken Shaker, Miami Beach, FL
A James Beard Award semifinalist, The Broken Shaker will, well, break everything you thought you knew about cocktail bars. Don’t be fooled by a lack of lines or pretension. The bartenders here are confident not only in their own knowledge but also in the super-fresh ingredients they stock behind the bar and the quality of their booze selection. Sit on the patio. Drink your negroni. You’re welcome.
On The Probability of Acquired Tastes
One last thing about the negroni. Most everyone will agree it’s an acquired taste. Kind of like what dads tell kids about beer, but it’s completely true. The bitterness and complex series of checks and balances that take place inside this seemingly simple cocktail can be difficult to, ahem, swallow.
Newbies, have no fear! Variations on this simple classic do, of course, exist. Top it with prosecco in place of the gin, or use Aperol (Campari’s gentler, lower-ABV cousin) to soften the edges of the cocktail’s bitterness. You can also play with the measurements of the three components, adding a little more vermouth to make it sweeter or more gin to make it, well, boozier.
1 part gin (such as Letherbee*)
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth (such as Carpano Antica or Punt e Mes)
Build ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir briskly for about 10 seconds, and strain either over ice in a rocks glass or into a coupe (if serving up). Garnish with an orange peel, expressed over the top and rubbed along the rim of the glass.
* The guys behind Chicago’s Letherbee Distillers are doing great things, like making beautiful, ultra-aromatic gin in small batches that people like me can actually afford.