“The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you,” wrote Orson Welles while working in Rome in 1947. It’s one of the earliest reports of the relatively new Negroni. “They balance each other,” he remarked, and indeed, balance is the operative word in this aperitivo.
For me, the Campari is one of the most iconic spirits in the world bringing in mind images of glamorously dressed Italians sipping the bright orange drink as the sun sets. And as Italians say, Campari must be drunk three times before it is enjoyed, so let’s say that you’ve got to try two or more Negronis before you pass judgment!
Every great cocktail has an origin story to match, and the Negroni is no exception. The cocktail gets its name from Count Camillo Negroni, a noted Italian libertine who, in 1919, decided that his Americano (Campari, vermouth, and soda water) was a little lacking in “oomph.” He kindly asked his bartender to replace the soda with gin, and a new breed of cocktail was born.
In the pantheon of cocktails, the Negroni stands out for its utter purity. The drink is rich and boozy and bitter, yet entirely uncomplicated.
In fact, over the Negroni’s nearly 100 years of existence, its recipe hasn’t changed at all. But why?
The answer lies in the recipe itself. Consider: Most traditional cocktails (and indeed, most cocktails worth drinking) are built around a single base spirit (whiskey, gin, tequila, etc). From there, ingredients are added to enhance the liquor’s flavor, and they do so in a variety of ways. Some cocktails, like the Martini or Manhattan, use vermouth to soften the liquor and bring out its more subtle flavors. Others, like the Old Fashioned or Sazerac, use cocktail bitters to add depth and complexity.
The Negroni, to its credit, manages to do both, combining the bitter, herbaceous flavor of Campari with the smoothness of vermouth. Add the final orange rind, and the result is a unique bouquet: citrus, herbal, and floral notes all suspended in perfect balance.
1 part gin
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth
1 slice orange rind
Stir all ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass, then serve in an Old Fashioned glass over ice