Born in Florence in 1919, the classic Negroni has an mysterious tale behind its creation.
Upon returning to Milan from his adventures in America, Italian Count Camillo Negroni had acquired a taste for stiff liquor while working rodeos. The Count challenged his local barman to beef up his usual Americano, which features the captivating colour and invigorating, bittersweet taste of Campari paired with sweet vermouth and soda.
Substituting soda for gin, the Negroni was born, becoming an instant classic in its native Italy and soon travelling far and wide, becoming the second-most called for cocktail in the world (just pipped by an Old Fashioned).
Celebrating a legend
Almost a century later, the much-loved Campari cocktail now has its very own weeklong celebration – Negroni Week – this year held between June 5-11.
Fittingly, Negroni Week originated in America, just like the Count's adventurous taste. It started when a tornado tore through Oklahoma in 2012, and the local bar community chipped together, donating proceeds from the sale of every Negroni to the disaster relief fund.
Campari is a constant, there is no Negroni without it.Paul Hammond
The idea caught on and now it's a global celebration that has made its way to Australia, with participating bars donating a dollar for every Negroni sold to their favourite causes.
Executive Style reached out to some of the country's finest cocktail experts and asked them for the secret behind making the perfect Negroni.
Campari is a constant
Paul Hammond, general manager at Sydney's Bulletin Place, ranked in 46th The World's 50 Best Bars last year rates a Negroni as one of the world's very few classic cocktails. "Although a classic apéritif, it's a serve that can suit any occasion, a night cap, a party or celebration, before dinner or an after-work bracer."
He argues that the drink's simplicity is a key reason for its global success. Not that there aren't important considerations to be made.
"Campari is a constant, there is no Negroni without it, but for the gin and the vermouth you have choices, probably too many. We would recommend a punchy robust gin, something juniper-led that will stand up to the other flavours and for the vermouth, a medium-bodied sweet vermouth is great. For the garnish, orange of course. We use a nice thin wedge with the oils from a small piece of zest sprayed over the top."
Mike Pattinson, formerly of Brisbane's The Bowery, says the irreplaceable Campari, obtained from the infusion of bitter herbs, aromatic plants and fruit in alcohol and water, is what ensures that the Negroni has stood the test of time. "The way I make my own Negroni, I just pour the Campari, gin and vermouth straight over ice," he reveals.
Three becomes four
As divine as the Negroni's equal-parts Campari, gin and vermouth recipe is, there's a fourth essential but often overlooked ingredient that must be added to this holy trinity: ice.
Michael Madrusan, principle bartender and founder of Melbourne's award-wining cocktail bar The Everleigh, is keenly aware of the importance of crystal-clear, cut ice. "To make the perfect Negroni, there needs to be a certain amount of dilution, but when it comes to a drink that's served on the rocks, you have to be really careful about dilution. What you need is a very dense block of ice that won't melt too quickly, preserving the integrity of the drink as long as possible."
It amazes Madrusan that any bartender would overlook such an integral element. "In so many bars around the world you can get a Negroni and while that first sip might be absolutely delicious, chances are the second sip has already started going downhill," he says. "When using a bag of store-bought ice, we're talking about something that melts very quickly therefore giving a real watery taste."
So impassioned is he about this necessity that Madrusan launched The Navy Strength Ice Co. Taking over a warehouse space, he installed seven hulking Clinebell icemakers capable of producing 21 massive blocks of clear ice per week. The trick to the perfect is directional freezing by isolating five of the six sides of the bock, pushing all oxygen and impurities to one side.
The Navy Strength Ice Co. then dries down the individual blocks, cuts them to size and ships them out the Everleigh and several other champion cocktail bars including Brunswick Street's Black Pearl and the CBD's 1806, both who will be participating in Negroni Week this year.
Sydney's The Baxter Inn was ranked 12th in last year's World's 50 Best Bars. General manager Stuart 'Chewy' Morrow says the Negroni manages to capture so much character and complexity in what is essentially a very simple drink. He notes that choosing the right ice-to-glass ratio is also important.
"A Negroni packed with too much ice in a large glass isn't a pleasant experience, just as too little ice in a small glass will lead to rapid dilution," he says. "Our combination of hand cut large blocks, along with smaller Hoshizaki ice, helps to gain dilution while keeping the drink cold enough that it can maintain a more constant drinking level. You also won't get hit in the face with ice every time you try to take a sip."
Tom Kearney, venue manager of Perth's The Dominion League, says you can pull off the perfect ice for your Negroni at home. "Fill up an esky with filtered water and put it in a freezer. This will insulate and cause the water to freeze from the top downwards. If you remove it from the freezer just before it freezes all the way through, you will have a small layer of water, and a clear block of ice."
All you need to do then is cut off the perfect-sized cube and add to your Negroni.
To enjoy a perfect Negroni throughout Negroni Week this year, find your local participating venue here.
Campari will also be offering great advice on how to make the perfect Negroni.
This article was brought to you by Campari.