Negroni Week

Maurice Amon NegroniWe’re approaching the end of Negroni week, and I sure have made a lot of them at my bar.  It’s not that people asked for them…I don’t get many requests for Negronis.  But when I recommend them, and someone tries one, they often ask for another.  Negroni is a very accessible drink made with Campari, an aperitif that many people find a little hard on the taste buds.

Negronis are one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one part Campari.  Garnish with an orange peel.  It’s typically served neat, either up or in a rocks glass.  I like using Greenhook Ginsmiths gin, Noilly Prat sweet vermouth, and just a sliver of orange peel shaved off with a potato peeler.  Be sure to stir the drink – shaking it will give the drink bubbles, which will kill the sweetness needed to balance out the bitter Campari.

Like most cocktails, nobody really knows who first made the cocktail, but there are a handful of myths that are passed around the bar industry.  It is generally accepted as an Italian drink from Florence from the early 1900’s.  Caffé Cavalli lays claim to the origin bar, which at the time had a different name.  The story is that there was a count named Negroni who invented it.  He asked the bartender to make an Americano, which in the cocktail world is simply Campari and sweet vermouth, splashed with a little club soda.  In the interest of speeding up the road to intoxication, the count asked to replace the seltzer with gin.  The bartender obliged, garnishing with an orange peel instead of the lemon peel typically served with Americanos as a signifier that the drink was different.

I take all stories like this with a grain of salt.  The cocktail community can get downright mythological.  I feel like I could make a story up like this after a few Negronis myself.

Whatever the origin, the cocktail took off.  Later, the Negroni family founded the Negroni Distillerie, making bottled versions of the cocktail.

A Negroni is an acquired taste.  There is a definite bitterness that many casual cocktail sippers may not enjoy.  You’ll need to enjoy the taste of gin, particularly if you use a stong-flavored one like Greenhook.  It has as much alcohol as a Manhattan, so watch out…the buzz will sneak up on you.  Especially if you drink it before dinner on an empty stomach, as aperitifs are meant to be imbibed.

The Old Fashioned

maurice amon old fashionedIt was brought to my attention that today is the anniversary of the Old Fashioned cocktail.  This cocktail has a strange history, and is a great example of the wild variations of recipes in the cocktail world.  Anyone who needs to exist in a world of black and white need not look to get into the field of bartending.  Next time you’re at a bookstore, take a walk over to the food book section, and then find the very small section of books about drinks.  Open up a cocktail recipe book and pick a drink you’ve never heard of at random.  Now find the same recipe in three more books.  I bet you’ll find that no two recipes match exactly.

It’s easy to understand how this would be possible.  Any bartender will tell you that even within a bar, there can be variations of recipes.  Great bars work hard to achieve consistency between bartenders, giving their customers the same drink experience every time.  I can think of a few bars where, when being trained by a legacy bartender, was told, ‘oh, they SAY to make this drink like THIS – but here’s how to make it really great!’  Even the training was encouraging coming up with variations!

The Old Fashioned is the original cocktail.  The earliest use of the word cocktail was in the early 1800’s, where it was described as spirits, bitters, sugar, and water.  Any spirit could be used, but it only became a cocktail with the addition of bitters, sugar, and water.  In the coming years, there was great innovation in cocktails, with additional spirits and liqueurs added, different mixers, and of course the removal of bitters, sugar, and water.  Once new drinks began gaining in popularity, some folks began to ask for an ‘old fashioned’ cocktail.  They simply wanted what was originally considered a ‘cocktail.’  They might order whisky, they might order gin, but they wanted that simple, original mix.

Today, ordering an Old Fashioned typically means you’re going to get bourbon whiskey, though its not strange to hear customers request another type of whiskey.  Customers who know, typically choose their specific spirit as part of the request.  Lately the request on Long Island is for a Bulleit Old Fashioned, with the implied understanding that I’ll make it with Bulleit bourbon (as opposed to their rye, which is also popular).  With all of the throwbacks to speakeasies and classic cocktails happening, I wonder if customers will start asking for Gin Old Fashioneds…