As cocktail trends delve deeper and deeper into an appreciation of spirits with the knowledge of the history of bartending, the Negroni has resurfaced as a new favorite among enthusiasts and bartenders alike. It's likely by this time that you've seen a Negroni on the menu at one of your favorite hangouts, and there are plenty of reasons the nearly 100-year-old cocktail is making a comeback. Think of it like the gin drinker's Manhattan or a cousin to the martini -- this bitter, liquor-forward aperitif might take some getting used to, but if you're anything like us, you'll be hooked for life after two Negronis.
The Negroni is thought to have been first ordered in 1919 in Florence, Italy, by who other than the Count Negroni. As the story goes, the count waved over a server and requested a very popular cocktail at the time called the Americano. The Americano, a drink pretty much forgotten by bar-goers, is composed of Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda. However, the count wanted his with backbone after spending years as (no joke) a rodeo cowboy in the United States. He got his with an equal portion of gin to replace the club soda, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Though this Italian count might seem to be one of the coolest ever guys to hang out with, there's no way he had any idea what a sensation it would be nowadays. You can get them bottled at Liberty Market, aged in sea salt-cured barrels at Citizen R+D, and on a host of menus around town, including The Main Ingredient and Trattoria Bianco, although most bars should be able to mix one up regardless of if it has a place on the menu. Part of the reason for the Negroni resurgence is thought to be the elevated quality of gin being produced again. However, the equal parts of Campari and sweet vermouth mean there's more to it than just the gin.
Chris Hardin, a bartender at The Gladly, is a Negroni enthusiast proud to work on the bar's draft Negroni system. He says the interplay between sweet, bitter, sour and strong components make the complex cocktail a favorite in the scene due to a new appreciation for quality spirits, along with cocktail culture in general.
"People are getting back to actually wanting to taste the alcohol elements in a cocktail rather than just watering it down with sugar," he says. "It's more about quality than quantity now."
Though Hardin says it's difficult to get all three balanced perfectly, The Gladly's pre-batched, on-draft method ensures consistency. The mix includes Campari, Carpano Antica, Dolin Rouge, and Aviation gin, which Hardin says gives The Gladly's Negroni a less juniper-forward, more balanced flavor. However, new Negroni drinkers still often experience "growing pains" when trying it out for the first time as he puts it.
"If you don't expect sweet and you're willing to get out of your everyday drink routine, it has a lot of depth of flavor," Hardin says. "We're not wired to like bitter, and sometimes you have to have one or two to get over it."
At The Gladly, Hardin has noticed a rise in popularity among customers, which he partially attributes to its novelty as a draft cocktail and also that it is offered for only $5 during happy hour. However, Dakota Melcher, a bartender at Hanny's, has noticed more people ordering their $8.50 Negroni in the past year than ever before.
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"It's usually industry people ordering them," he says. "I hadn't even heard of it before I started working here."
Whether or not it's people in the bartending community driving the trend, both Hardin and Melcher note that Negroni has mass appeal for gin drinkers and those who typically stay away from the spirit due to its piney punch. Even at Hanny's, where they use the very juniper-forward Beefeater gin, Melcher says the Campari and sweet vermouth "kill the taste of gin." Hardin recommends a Negroni made with the sweetened Hayman's Old Tom for first-timers intimidated by the strong, bitter elements of the drink.
Once you pick you're gin style, all that's left is the garnish, which can be anything from candied orange to flamed orange peel in Hardin's experience, but a good lemon twist or orange peel does the trick for a classic take.