hat bitter ruby red elixir , something about its balance of bitterness ,sweet and underlying herbal notes had me hooked from the get go. Yes I’m talking about Campari the bitter sorceress that plays so well with others yet always manages to stand out with her own amaroidal voice, I use it in all manner of ways , mixed with lemon lime soda, IPA beer & grapefruit, freeze it into an after dinner palate cleansing treat, or dehydrate it into pink fairy like dust for sprinkling.
There’s a tale out there (maybe tall maybe true) about a Nobleman also partial to a glass or two of this jewel like temptress, the story goes that one day around 1919 a certain Count Camillo of Florence , Italy made a simple request to his bartender , he needed his usually satisfying Americano cocktail made stronger, the Americano is a highball built over ice consisting of equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth topped with soda water . The bartender pondered and turned to a bottle of gin, he poured out an equal amount of gin and added it to the glass but this time without soda and finished with a spritz of orange oil. The result was at once bitter and sweet, racy and refreshing and warming and spicy, the color of a deep red treasure winking across the bar at the Count demanding that he savor it, he became a man bewitched , the bartender named it using Camillo’s last name and so the Negroni was born.
Who knows why the good Count thought of it, maybe a day of frustrations led him to need something stiffer we shall never know, so happy was he with the result the Count and his family opened a distillery and made the first pre-packaged version marketed as Antico Negroni ( and you thought bottled cocktails were new!). The Negroni has become one of the most recognized classic drinks and in many cocktail bars I’ve auditioned at the first drink I was asked to make to prove ability. If the bartender shakes it or adds the wrong ratios then its an immediate fail, but get the proportions, garnish and the chill on the nectar just so and your taste buds will be enveloped in its splendid bittersweet symphony.
Typically drank as an aperitif , the bitterness rounded out by a spicy sweet vermouth plus the nerve taming tonic of a good dry gin is the perfect end in my mind to the day or beginning of a great evening, these days I’ve seen the Negroni made with Dutch Genever adding a lovely malty finish or turned into a lesser known classic the Boulevardier by subbing out whiskey for the gin, the whiskey I think turns the drink into an after dinner sipper which is fine since the chinoto from the Campari also works as a digestive aid. The Negroni to me is also the quintessential summer cocktail and with summer ( yes time has gone too fast this year) comes Negroni Cocktail week put together by Imbibe magazine and Campari , a seven day celebration of the classic Negroni and its variations, participating bars will donate a portion of Negroni sales to their favorite charities,its also a chance for the bar community to gather together and give something back. If you would like to join in the festivities go here for a list of participating bars in your area, my own list includes The Varnish, Eveleigh, Tasting Kitchen and Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles and Broadway restaurant in Laguna , please also visit us at Ink in West Hollywood where I’ll be serving up our Rapid Barrel aged Negroni sous vide for 2 days, as well as our Boulevardier finished with a splash of lambic ale, or if you’re hearing the call of adventure maybe I’ll hook you up with a hit or two of Campari dust.
And now , without further stories my Ode to the Negroni and all it inspires , but if like me you prefer playing the Hermit from time to time and are not in the mood for playing with others, here’s seven days worth of recipes for you to get your own bitter sweet symphony on with!
monday June 2nd….Start your engines with this lovely smooth Barrel aged Negroni.
Serves 12 ( or 4 really thirsty peeps)
12 oz Fords Gin
12 oz Noilly Prat or Cocchi Vermouth Di Torrino
12 oz Campari
16 dashes orange bitters
1 barrel stave ( Tuthilltown distillery in NY sells packs)
orange zest for garnish
Combine everything in an airtight preferably glass container like a ball canning jar ( a big one) stir and add the barrel stave. Allow to sit in a dark corner of your pad for at least a week, no cheating you need a nice flavor to develop. If you are lucky enough to have access to an Immersion Circulator, toss everything into a large vacuum sealable bag, seal up and sous vide at 55 degrees C for 2 days, let the bag chill down before decanting into an airtight bottle .
Once ready, pour in 3 oz of batch per person into a mixing glass, add cracked ice and stir for about 30 seconds until a nice chill develops on your glass, strain into chilled ice filled rocks glasses and garnish with an orange twist, feeling fancy, you can flame the twist by setting fire to the expelled oils from the twist.
Tuesday June 3rd….chill out with a Negroni sour
1 1/2 oz Cap Rock gin
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Sweet vermouth of choice
1/2 oz lemon juice
1 oz grapefruit juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 oz egg white
garnish with Campari dust (recipe below)
Add everything except garnish to a Boston shaker and dry shake without ice for 1o seconds, add 4-5 ice cubes and shake again for 25 seconds or so. Strain into a chilled vessel of choice and sprinkle over a pinch of Campari Dust
Wednesday June 4th…round out hump day with Ink’s variation on a Boulevardier
1 1/2 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon
1 oz Campari
1 oz Cocchi rosa
3 dashes Miracle Mile chocolate chili bitters
a splash of Timmerman’s strawberry lambic ale
garnish with an orange peel
Add spirits only into a mixing glass with cracked ice and stir for 25-30 seconds, strain into a chilled coupe glass , add splash of lambic ale and finish with your twist of orange peel.
Thursday June 5th….indulge with a Negroni Milk shake (you did Yoga all week you deserve it)
1 1/2 oz Bols Genever
1 1/2 oz Campari
1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 cup of vanilla ice cream
2 dashes peychauds bitters
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 bar spoon citric solution 10:1 water to citric acid
1/8 oz vanilla extract
Campari dust to finish if you so wish
Add everything to a blender with 4 ice cubes and blitz for about 15 seconds or until its nice and smooth, pour into a chilled glass of choice, add straw and slurp away!
Friday June 6th….get your friday frisk on with this cross between a Negroni, a salty, spicy margarita and a michelada….The Negritalada (perhaps)
3/4 oz of thai chili infused tequila ( if you want a pony kick instead of a ass whooping you can use half spicy and half regular tequila)
3/4 oz Vida Mezcal
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz agave nectar
1 oz fresh ruby grapefruit juice
1/2 oz lime juice
a dash of vanilla extract
salt rim and IPA beer to finish
Add everything except garnish into a your Boston shaker, shake for 25 seconds with 5 ice cubes. Strain into a chilled, salt rimmed highball glass filled with ice, top off with a generous splash of IPA beer.
Saturday June 7th….Amp up your weekend with Negroni jello shots and Campari Dust Pixy Stix (or lines depending on your mindset)
For the Jello shots ( you will need to do this in stages giving one layer time to fully set before adding second layer)
1 x 7 gram packet of Knox gelatin
1/3 cup of Aviation gin
2/3 cup of lemon lime soda
1 tablespoon cane sugar
1/4 oz rosewater
1 x 7 gram packet Knox gelatin powder
1/3 cup Campari
1/3 cup sweet vermouth
1/3 cup orange juice
Add gin+rosewater / Campari to a small bowl with the packet of gelatin powder, stir and allow to dissolve for 1 minute, meanwhile in a pan add your lemon lime soda/sweet vermouth+OJ to the heat and heat up to just before simmering. Take off and add lemon lime soda to gin rosewater and vermouth OJ mix to Campari. Stir to incorporate and fully dissolve the gelatin powder, add sugar and stir again dissolving sugar. Let sit for 3-4 minutes then pour into silicone ice cube trays from Cocktail Kingdom filling up to the half way line. Let sit for few minutes then place in the fridge for 3 hours to let fully set. When set repeat with second layer. To extract from tray, warm up a small palette knife with hot water and run around the edges of each cube, gently coax out and , depending on your mood, either gobble up or arrange neatly on serving tray .
For Campari Dust
1 cup Campari
1 cup powdered sugar
mix together well to dissolve sugar, I found its quicker to get absolutely all the lumps out if your sieve your sugar first. Add the slurry to a heavy bottomed pan and set onto a medium heat, this part takes some patience since you have to stand and stir the mix whilst it slowly evaporates down to a paste. Once pasty, take off heat and quickly spread out onto a silpat lines baking sheet ,spreading evenly with your trusty palette knife. Add to a very low oven and let it dehydrate over night. Once dry add to your blender and wazz it until it resembles a fine pink powder. Store in airtight container with silicone packets to stop it from clumping . Slurp up through straws, add to your ice cream, milk shakes, sours etc.
Sunday June 8th….Finish off with a refreshing Negroni Bianco Sgroppino
The Classic Negroni made with white bitters , carbonated and poured over Campari grapefruit granita
For the Campari Granita:
1/2 cup Campari
3 cups strained ruby grapefruit juice
3/4 cup of sugar
1/2 oz rosewater
1/4 oz vanilla extract
Add grapefruit juice and sugar to pan and set on heat to dissolve sugar, add to Campari, rosewater and vanilla and stir. Allow to chill before pouring into a metal container that you will then set in the freezer. Every couple of hours you will need to stir the freezing mix to stop ice crystals from forming . When set, cover top with a sheet of parchment paper to protect from freezer burn.
for the Negroni Bianco:
6 oz Aviation gin
6 oz Tempus Fugit Gran Classico
6 oz Dolin blanc vermouth
add everything to a pitcher with a scoop of ice and stir to chill and dilute . Pour into either an ISI gun or a Twist and Sparkle contraption and charge with one CO2 gas charger.
With all your components ready and your glasses nice and frosty, get an ice cream scoop and portion out a generous scoop of the Campari granita into Coupe glasses, pour over the carbonated Negroni Bianco and garnish with a twist of grapefruit peel.