Age-old Italian Mastery that has stood the test of time

Welcome to the first in our monthly series of explorations that delve deep into favourites from the cocktail world.

And nothing seems more fitting, given it’s the source of our very existence, than this month’s focus be upon the traditional Negroni. Sit back, pour yourself one and come on an adventure into the world that is Negroni.

A true classic, the Negroni—a ruby red, age-old drink with roots in nineteenth-century Italy—is a sophisticated aperitif made of three simple but concise ingredients. One third London dry gin, one third sweet (red) Italian-style vermouth and finally, but with possibly the most importance and most definitely no substitute, one-third Campari.

When mixed perfectly, this trinity delivers an impeccable balance of sweetness, bitterness, and floral and herbal aromatics. Served over ice (a large singular block where possible), in old-fashioned or rocks glass, the Negroni is stirred down, but not ever shaken. And a Negroni can never be complete without the citrus notes that come from either a slice of orange, or its peel—expressed (twisted) to release its oils to the drink.

On an international scale, Negroni is one of the world’s most celebrated cocktails, and while the last decade has undoubtedly brought it very much back into the spotlight, this centenarian has always had a devout following and  is doused in rich history.

The Negroni was born out of the Milano-Torino, also an Italian classic. Mixed of Campari and sweet vermouth, it came about in Milan, Italy, from the 1860s. As the Mi-To became popular, particularly among Americans, it evolved with one variation becoming more common. One that retained its founding two ingredients but added a splash of soda. And so evolution brought us the Americano.

The most popular account of the birth of the Negroni jumps us forward some sixty-odd years, to 1919. We remain, of course, in Italy but have taken up residence in the great city of dreams, Firenze (Florence). Since the end of the nineteenth century, late Florentine afternoons were adorned with, firstly, the hour of vermouth, followed by the hour of bitter, and then unsurprisingly, the combination of both.

One particular afternoon, in the Caffè Casoni (then called Caffè Giacosa), a certain young Count requested of barman Fosco Scarselli, his afternoon aperitif to be “strengthened”. The legendary mixologist responded with a variation of the Americano that swapped out its volume of soda for that of gin, introducing to the palate the unmistakable taste of juniper. And so the new variant took a name fashioned after its creator, Count Camillo Negroni.

Decades on, it is safe to say that Negroni remains one of the most popular cocktails in the entire world. And while two of its ingredients (gin and vermouth) may produce variations of the drink’s flavour profiles, there is one ingredient that must stay true to the drink’s original incarnation.

As the saying goes: “There is no Negroni without Campari”. In fact, so much so that Campari was the first ever brand to be referenced as an ingredient in the IBA (International Bartender Association) Official Drink List’s recipe for Negroni.

And why Campari? you might ask. Because it’s all about acquiring that perfect balance. While the drink is certainly an acquired taste—loved by many and loathed by some—when combined with the sweetness of vermouth and herbal offset of gin, the Italian liqueur’s bitterness becomes all the more palatable, forming a balance and union of taste sensations that epitomises, and defines perfection.

And if you’re choosing to do more than just swap out a brand, rather swapping the ingredients altogether, then you’re stepping into variant territory. Prosecco, Jägermeister or bourbon give us the Negroni Sbagliato, the Count Mast Negroni and the Boulevardier…

…but these are all stories for another month.