Evolution 101: The Negroni
The Negroni cocktail was developed in Florence, Italy between 1919 and 1920. It has spawned many other cocktails and is, itself, a take on another cocktail – The Americano.
The story begins in Milan, Italy in the 1860s. Gaspare Campari created a cocktail he dubbed the Milano-Turino. It contained Campari, Cinzano Rosso (a sweet vermouth), and soda water. He called it The Milano-Turino because the Campari was made in Milan; and the sweet vermouth (Cinzano) came from Turin.
(He probably should have coined it the Novara-Turino, because the Campari was actually made a bit outside Milan – in Novara – (30 miles from Milan), until 1904, at which time production actually moved into the city proper.)
He mixed the Campari with an equal part of the sweet vermouth, and generously topped it with club soda to produce a light, refreshing, slightly bitter aperitivo – a cocktail used to stimulate the appetite; to be enjoyed prior to dinner or early-on in the meal.
Its sweet, rich edge comes from the sweet vermouth (originally the Cinzano, but any sweet vermouth will do). The Campari provides the biting, crisp bitterness. It has hints of orange peel and herbs, and, up until 2006, its sharp red color came from the carminic acid that is produced by crushing dried cochineal insects. The heavy dose of soda water makes it a good thirst quencher as well as making it a fairly light drink.
This fizzy, pleasant drink was enjoyed for decades. Served cold and over ice, typically in a tall glass with an orange peel. At some point (probably around the mid 1910s) the cocktail was renamed the Americano – because, it seems, that the American expatriates living in the Italy following WWI, were quite fond of it. And all was good until Count Negroni entered the scene…
Cammillo Luigi Manfredo Maria Negroni was born in Florence, Italy in 1868. His father was Italian; his mother: English. They were well-healed aristocrats, and Camillo spent time in and was educated in London and traveled to America where, aside from drinking, he tried his hand as a rodeo cowboy. (He had dropped the second “m” from his first name by the time he traveled to London). He was truly larger-than-life, and developed a love of drinking (and probably his fondness for gin) while in London. And so it was, when he was chatting up one of his favorite bartenders in Florence sometime around 1919-1920, that the Negroni was created.
It was at the Bar of the Café Casoni. Fosco Scarselli was the bartender. Whether it was the Count or the bartender who recommended replacing the Soda Water in the Americano with gin is lost to history. Most likely it was the Count who asked for the gin and Scarselli who named the cocktail after him after people began ordering an “Americano in the Negroni way.”
And that’s the history of the Negroni. A wonderful cocktail that is seeing a deserved revival today as folks gravitate toward drinks with a bit more bitterness to them. And there are many takes and variants of it.
Take the Boulevardier. Harry McElhone left New York’s Plaza Hotel (because of prohibition), crossed the Atlantic, spending time at Ciro’s in London and then their branch in Deauville, France, before he bought the New York Bar in Paris (in 1923), rebranding it Harry’s New York Bar. Harry’s was a very popular bar, with both locals and expatriates, and it was there, sometime before he published his 1927 book Barflies and Cocktails, that he replaced the Negroni’s gin with bourbon, calling it the Boulevardier after the English-language periodical edited by one of his customers, Erskine Gwynne (a barfly himself and nephew of railroad magnet Alfred Vanderbilt – and the one Harry credits with bringing in the recipe). (In McElhone’s previous book, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, the recipe calls for Canadian Club Whiskey). The bourbon in Boulevardier gives the drink a richness and complexity which differs from the more perfumy and botanical notes provided by the gin in the Negroni.
The Negroni is tweaked by people who switch out the Campari for a more bitter element like an amaro, or change the base spirit to almost anything you can think of, like tequila or rum. We have several recipes which are takes on the Americano, the Negroni, and the Boulevardier. Things like the Silly American, our Aloe Americano, our Frau Blucher, our Lilac Boulevardier, our Bacon Boulevardier, and our incredibly fun and irreverent Spumoni Negroni. We’ve also barrel-aged the Negroni & Boulevardier cocktails. Check those out and check back from time-to-time as we’re often creating things based on these classics.
We raise our glasses to toast the Negroni, its father (the Americano), its cousin (the Boulevardier), and to the joy they’ve given mankind and inspiration they’ve given to bartenders worldwide. Cheers!
1 ½ oz. Campari
1 ½ oz. Sweet Vermouth
3 oz. Club Soda
Pour all ingredients into an ice-filled Collins glass. Stir to mix and chill. Garnish with an orange peel.
1 ½ oz. Gin
1 ½ oz. Campari
1 ½ oz. Sweet Vermouth
Stir all ingredients, with ice, in a mixing glass. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with an orange peel.
1 ½ oz. Bourbon
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Add all ingredients, with ice, to a mixing glass. Stir to chill and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.