Negroni, an all-Italian story

Author: Marco Negro

“originale in Italiano pubblicato su Barolo&Co nr I-2022”- “per concessione di Barolo&Co – traduzione a cura di Barbara Fassio”

The world’s best-known cocktails have a precise place and date of birth. Through a journey of cultural cues and historical notes, we are recounting the best-known recipes, the liqueurs used and the techniques of ‘mixed drinking’.

Original Campari bitter poster

The Negroni has recently turned one hundred years old. We know its time and city of birth: 1919, Florence. The historical narrative, however, cannot do without the story of the ‘Milano-Torino’ and ‘Americano’ cocktails. All three cocktails are based on ‘Bitter all’uso d’Hollandia’, the herbal liqueur produced by Campari as early as the 1860s.

‘Milan-Turin’ is the quintessential Italian cocktail. Milan, home and workshop of Gaspare Campari, brings the bitter notes of the bitter. Turin, the birthplace of vermouth, contributes the exotic and local botanicals, softened by the infusion in wine. It is difficult to say when the first ‘Milan-Turin’ might have been born. It is very likely that Gaspare Campari, having just created the elixir in his Caffè dell’Amicizia in Novara, mixed it with one of the available Turin vermouths. With the move from Novara to Milan, Mr Campari’s Bitter was served in the new Milanese bar.

A few years and the building housing the bar in the centre of Milan had to be demolished to make way for a strange building, characterised by multi-armed galleries and an unusual iron and glass roof. When Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was inaugurated in 1867, Caffè Campari found itself, by chance, in the right place at the right time: inside one of the world’s first shopping centres, the so-called ‘salotto di Milano’. The ruby red liqueur, bitter but sweet, soon needed a factory and Bitter Campari became a worldwide success.

A bottle of Campari bitter

Apparently, the ‘Milan-Turin’ cocktail appealed to the many foreign visitors and travellers to cosmopolitan Milan in the late 19th century. The Americans, however, demanded a splash of soda, the extremely effervescent water with a slightly savoury taste that bartenders around the world use to dilute spirits and liqueurs. Thus was born the ‘Americano’ cocktail, the American version of the very Italian ‘Milan-Turin’ duet.

Gaspare Campari invented a unique liqueur, still the mainstay of ‘mixed drinking’. A recipe that has remained unchanged for 160 years and is still jealously guarded today. We certainly know that it starts with a hydro-alcoholic infusion of bitter herbs, chinotto peel and cascarilla bark. The mixture of herbs, however, is known only to the few who mix them in great secrecy. The alcoholic extract is then diluted with water and sugar to lower the alcohol content to 25% vol. and finally dyed with the characteristic ruby red colour.

The wide, stemless glass with its characteristic thick bottom is called a tumbler. The low tumbler is used for liqueurs or cocktails on the rocks, i.e. served with ice. There are also so-called ‘old fashioned tumblers’, glasses decorated in the manner of decades ago. Actually, some bartenders amaze us with authentic glasses, small modern treasures.

Let us return to the Florence of 1919, and precisely enter the Caffè Casoni in Via de’ Tornabuoni. Here an aristocrat, a great traveller and lover of mixed drinks, asked to reinforce his ‘Americano’ with an extra portion of gin, the English distillate he loved so much. The gentleman was Count Camillo Negroni. The cocktail ‘Americano alla moda del Conte Negroni’ was born.

A glass of Negroni cocktail on a table

An all-Italian story for a mixing icon: the ‘Milano-Torino’ based on Bitter Campari and vermouth first became ‘Americano’, with the addition of soda water, and finally ‘Negroni’, with the addition of the pungent aroma of juniper distillate.

The currently codified formula is as follows:

– 2 cl of Gin

– 2 cl of Vermouth Rosso

– 2 cl of Bitter Campari

The Negroni is prepared using the build technique, the English verb literally meaning ‘to construct’. The cocktail is built directly in the serving glass. This must first be chilled with ice cubes, swirled quickly with the stirrer, the very long-handled spoon. After draining off the excess water, hard, transparent ice cubes are added, the professional kind, which melt slowly. Finally, the alcoholic ingredients, measured out with the jigger, are poured in exactly the order in which they are coded: gin, vermouth and finally the bitter.

This is the hourglass-shaped measuring cup with which bartenders quickly measure out quantities of liquids for the execution of a coded recipe. The double-cone shape allows for one measure on one side and its submultiple on the other (e.g. 6 cl and 3 cl). There are countless versions. In cocktails, the right dose is indispensable for correct execution.

This is due to the fact that gin, of the three, is the least dense, which will therefore help dilute the thicker bitter. The stirrer is again used to gently mix the three components. The glass used to make the Negroni is a low tumbler. The decoration, as desired by the barman of Caffè Casoni in Florence, is a slice of orange, or a simple slice of orange peel.

Hands of a barman using a jigger to dose a cocktail.

This mixology icon falls into the ‘pre-dinner’ category, the cocktails that prepare the stomach for dinner. In fact, each sip of a Negroni is a kaleidoscope of aromatic and balsamic notes to be discovered at all hours, especially in a speakeasy, when the evening matures into night.

Counter and bottles on display in a speakeasy bar.

10th January 2023,

Marco Negro

Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.
Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.

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