The word on the street is that vermouth is experiencing a renaissance. The aperitif of choice in Spain, it is enjoyed at midday among friends and salty snacks. In the rest of the world, however, vermouth has been relegated to shelves of dusty liquor bottles, awaiting its inclusion in a dry martini.
Now, one cocktail with a whole lot of history is bringing vermouth back to the spotlight—the negroni. Forget a drop or a hint of the stuff—sweet red vermouth, or vermut rosso, takes a starring role in this drink. The classic negroni, according to the International Bartender’s Association, is equal parts gin, Campari, and red vermouth, stirred into a glass over ice and served with a garnish of orange peel.
One of the simplest classic cocktails to make, the three-ingredient beverage balances sweet and bitter masterfully. The gin undercuts the syrupy sweetness of the Campari and vermouth, which must have been the reason Count Negroni opted for gin instead of soda water in his Americano. Yes, you read that right—in 1919 a Count named Camillo Negroni ordered the first variation on the Americano (Campari, vermouth, and soda water) by replacing the soda water with gin. This tough guy earned a living for years as a cowboy in the New World, but he first ordered his namesake drink in Florence, Italy.
The history of the negroni unravels into quite the fascinating tale, with a lineage more prestigious than the royal family. The father of the negroni is the Americano, which is purported to have been christened at the turn of the century by Italians who noticed its popularity among tourists. The father of the Americano, however, is the Milano-Torino, equal parts Campari (from Milan) and red vermouth (from Turin). First served in the mid-1800’s in Milan in Caffe Campari, this Milano-Torino was a twist on the Torino-Milano, which predates all of the above cocktails and includes Amaro Cora and Campari. In other words, it’s been a long road to negroni perfection.
This road has led the negroni to where it is today. “It has now joined the Dry Martini and the Manhattan to form the Triple Crown of classic cocktails,” says journalist Gary Regan, who writes regularly on the subject for American publications. The movement has included a huge marketing campaign, #negroniweek, which raised money for charity by encouraging restaurants across the United States to create a negroni and sell it during second week of June. The evidence of its success spills across all social media. Bars across the world are developing complex variations, such as Citizen R+D in Arizona (USA), which serves a barrel-aged, salt-cured version of the negroni.
So what are the keys to perfection? It’s a simple drink, difficult to mess up. “No matter where in the world you happen to be, if you order a Negroni you’re more or less guaranteed a great quaff,” says Regan. It doesn’t even matter which gin you choose, as the sweet Campari has quite the overpowering (in a good way) taste. So pour, stir, and enjoy this classic favorite.
The classic negroni:
30 ml Gin
30 ml Campari
30 ml vermouth
Mix all the ingredients and serve in a cocktail glass on the rocks.