If you pinned me to the wall and demanded to know my favorite cocktail, the first word I’d blurt out would be probably “Negroni.”
(In the event that you, Dear Reader, are not familiar with this wonderful aperitivo, I urge you to have one before your next meal. Equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin; garnish with orange.)
So, when I saw that the prolific Paul Clarke was moderating a seminar at Tales of the Cocktail devoted solely to the consideration of the Negroni, I jumped on it. Paul graciously answered a few of my silly questions, which I now share with you.
I’ve noticed an uptick of interest in bitters and bitter liqueurs such as Italian amari. Is the American palate shifting, and what does that mean for cocktails like the Negroni?
I think the American palate is certainly expanding. Sure, there’s still a lot of work to do, and we may never overcome the preponderance of Big Macs and vodkapops, but the growth of interest in bitter liqueurs is absolutely happening. I think the Negroni is both aiding that, and benefiting from it — aiding it in that it’s a classic cocktail that can be made in almost any bar, so people who are discovering the pleasure of bitter can order one without much difficulty; and it’s benefiting from the growing interest in bitter flavors in that it’s a core drink like the Manhattan or the Martini: even after a person has explored the different options out there, it’s a simple yet always engaging drink that drinkers will always come back to.
The Negroni is infinitely variable. Do you have a favorite variation, and if so what is it?
I’ll always come back to a classic Negroni (equal parts, rocks, orange wheel or twist). But you’re right that there are many relatives; one I often mix for myself is an Agavoni, which is simply a Negroni made with reposado tequila, served with a grapefruit twist. Tequila and Campari are made for each other. And of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool fan of American whiskey, I think a bourbon-based Boulevardier is never a bad thing.
The last (and only) time I was in Italy, I was woefully unaware of the Negroni (not to mention underage). Is it a truly popular drink there? What are your chances of walking into a random bar and successfully ordering a Negroni in Italy versus America? (I’ve had to instruct bartenders here on how to make one, alas.)
The Negroni has a longer history (obviously) and a bigger following in Italy than in the U.S. While it’s growing in popularity here at home, in Italy (particularly in Florence), it’s a home-grown cocktail, and I think a Negroni novice will have much better luck.
The vodka Negroni (as seen in *Thank You for Not Smoking*) — pure abomination or does it have a role to play?
My vodka partisan days are (mostly) behind me; if someone really enjoys a Vodka Negroni, then more power to ‘em (though please, give the drink its own name). Campari is the ingredient in a Negroni that’s usually the hard thing for a newcomer to come to terms with; if someone wants to embrace that flavor without the moderating factor of gin, then who am I to judge?
This year I’ve found myself drawn to seminars that concentrate on exploring particular cocktails. If there is a story behind how your seminar “came to be,” I would love to hear it.
The Negroni seminar came to be for one simple reason: I like Negronis, and I know I’m not alone. The Negroni is an evergreen drink, and among bartenders there’s never a wrong time to have one (well, maybe 8:30 am, but I’m sure you could come up with a good enough reason if you tried). Since Tales of the Cocktail attracts bartenders and cocktail fans from around the country (and beyond), I knew we’d have a substantial fan base for the drink that would likely be interested in hearing what I and the other panelists have dug up about this iconic drink.
Finally, I know you did a session on aperitif wines. Sadly I missed it. I love them too. However I’ve only had the most basic and readily available ones. So I’ve got to ask if you have any hot tips on this front, any must-try recommendations?
It’s been a good couple of years for aperitif wines: after Cocchi Aperitivo Americano and Bonal came into the US last year, this year we’ve seen the arrival of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, which is absolutely lovely, along with other aperitif drinks like Cardamaro. I’m curious to see what’s on the aperitif front for the coming year, but you’re also seeing bars and bartenders taking a greater interest in these kinds of drinks, so I think we’re just getting started on the aperitif angle.
So there you have it. If anyone was wondering what to buy me for a special present, how about some Cocchi Vermouth di Torino?
I’ll report back after the seminar itself.