The Noble Negroni

Boozy, bitter and sweet, the Negroni can perhaps be said to encapsulate the aim of all good cocktails – to provide a perfectly balanced drink that stimulates the senses. November's Gin of the Month Box has everything members need to make this classic cocktail: Campari, vermouth, and (of course) a beautiful bottle of Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin. Could the Negroni be the best gin cocktail ever? Read on and decide for yourself!

The Four Pillars team are big fans of a classic Negroni. “It’s a lovely drink,” Cameron says. “Sweet, bitter, ginny. Rich, flavoursome and drinkable.”

It’s also a drink with both a rich history and an avid contemporary following – not mention a whole host of delicious twists and variations. Here we explore some of the hidden depths of this bitterly beautiful, ruby-hued wonder.

The History

As with many classic cocktails, the precise origins of the Negroni are hotly disputed, but the most widely accepted story is that it originated in Florence, Italy, in the early 20th century.

It’s believed to be a variation on the Americano aperitif, a drink named for the American tourists of the period, who commonly requested the addition of a splash of soda water to the traditional mix of Campari and sweet vermouth known as a Milano-Torino.

The Negroni story goes that, in 1919, one Italian-born Count Camillo Negroni was drinking in Florence’s Casoni Bar. Having recently returned from a trip to the US – where he was said to have ridden the ranges of the Wild West as a cowboy, gambled his way round New York and then exited when Prohibition was introduced – it’s safe to say he had a rather wild reputation.

No surprise, then, that he demanded to be served an Americano with a bit more kick. The bartender, Fosco Scarselli, responded by replacing the soda water with gin – and the Negroni was born.

Whatever the accuracy of this tale, the Negroni subsequently became a staple of the Italian aperitivo – a most civilised practice of enjoying early evening cocktails and snacks to whet the appetite for dinner, especially popular in northern Italy.

In recent years, however, the popularity of the humble Negroni has spread far beyond the sumptuous caffes of Milan and Turin. Driven by a combination of factors, including the gin ‘boom’ and a growing trend for more bitter drinks, the Negroni has taken on near cult-status, becoming downright fashionable in some circles.

The cocktail now boasts dedicated London tours, endless coffee-table (or perhaps cocktail-table?) books exploring its hidden depths, and there’s even an International Negroni Week every June, which sees bars around the world hold events to raise money for charity.

The Ingredients

For a drink so fêted and so deliciously complex in flavour, the Negroni a remarkably simple creation. It’s centred around the perfect balance of just three key ingredients.

Perhaps the most inimitable of these is Campari, the shockingly red, stylishly packaged, lip-puckeringly bitter Italian liqueur. Created in Northwest Italy in 1860, the secret recipe includes oranges, rhubarb and a collection of 68 herbs and spices, the identities of which are so closely guarded that key ingredients are always delivered straight to company director’s office in plain brown packaging.

It’s fair to say that, due to its bitterness, Campari is an acquired taste, but it brings an intriguing complexity to cocktails and, for a classic Negroni, is pretty much irreplaceable.

The second part of the Negroni’s holy trinity is vermouth – namely sweet vermouth, otherwise known as Italian, rosso or (as with the Miró in November's box this month) rojo vermouth. This wine-based tipple is popular as an aperitif across Italy, France and Spain, but is also key to some to pretty classic cocktail recipes.

Like gin, it’s created by macerating a selection of botanicals (each producer has their own secret blend) in wine which has been fortified with grape brandy and sugar. The Miró Rojo we’ve provided for your Negroni experimentations is particularly aromatic, with notes of oregano and delicate anise.

Finally, of course, there’s the gin – the added kick that first transformed the Americano into the Negroni. Despite the powerful flavours of both Campari and vermouth, the gin that you use in your Negroni is crucial, amplifying different aspects of the drink depending on its own botanical profile.

Having been created by a couple of self-confessed Negroni lovers, Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin makes what Cam refers to as “a cracking Negroni” – smooth, herbal, fruity and complex. Just thinking about it is enough to make you want to mix one…

The Mixing

The good news is that the Negroni is so simple to make that chef Anthony Bourdain, an avowed fan, once said “pretty much any chimpanzee could make this drink”.

Simply pour equal parts of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari over ice, stir, garnish with an orange slice or the zest – et voilà! The ice is important, as the drink not only needs cooling, but also a little dilution to help open up the aromatic ingredients. The orange is also key – if using zest, make sure to squeeze it skin-side down over your drink before dropping it in to release the fragrant oils.

You can also choose to stir with ice in a separate mixing glass to chill, then serve ‘straight up’ in a chilled coupe glass – but whatever you do, just don’t shake it.

Negronis also lend themselves well to being pre-mixed – in fact, the ingredients infuse with each other given time, producing even richer flavours and becoming more ‘Negroni-like’. Plus, there’s nothing like turning up to a party with a bottle of ready-made Negronis to make you the most popular person in the room. Just make sure you pour over ice to chill well and garnish with orange peel in each glass as you serve them.

There’s also a growing trend among bars for ageing Negronis in little wooden barrels, something that imbues a smooth, deep flavour as the drink takes on the flavours of the wood.

While a classic Negroni is a beautiful thing, it’s also inspired a whole host of possible variations made by adding to or replacing one or more of the ingredients. Why not experiment and discover some new Negronis of your own with our two alternatives - one bubble one white - here?

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