Why the Negroni is the Marmite of the cocktail world
"The Negroni is the Marmite of mixed drinks" writes Ian Cameron. So why does it put so many people - including restaurant critic Jay Rayner - off?
"Taken at face value, the classic cocktail from 1920s Florence is a simple enough concept: gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, poured in equal measures. There's no mixological whimsy at work, no fancy techniques - you just pour the liquids over a few ice cubes in the glass you're going to serve it in and give it a stir. Throw in an orange twist and Bob's your uncle.
Yet when drinkers raise a Negroni to their lips the cocktail has an incredibly polarising effect. Like the nation's reaction to its most famous yeast extract, people literally love it or hate it. It's a big, boozy, big boy's drink, dry and jowl-shakingly bitter. It comes at you like a wake-up call at 3am.
To its fans, it's an aperitif without compare, a sophisticated kick start to enliven the palate and stiffen the sinews ahead of a meal.
To the haters, it's a red devil incarnate.
Is it in the healthy slug of gin? It can't be. We all love a stiff G&T and gin has been probably the most interesting spirit category of late, with a slew of new brands, flavours and styles.
What about the vermouth? Sure, an appreciation of aromatized wines can be an acquired taste, and in this ratio it's undoubtedly a star player as much as the gin, but it's hardly offensive.
No, it must be the Campari.
The bright red allure of Campari is deceptive, its hue redolent of a cordial, promising sweetness, maybe berry flavours or a pomegranate-like grenadine quality. But to the uninitiated, its bitter, rooty glory can come as a nasty surprise, akin to licking a full ashtray.
Those that are averse to the taste may never change their minds, but for those it appeals to, there's really no substitute. And that, perhaps, is its ultimate conceit: if you like it, you're a member of a special club.
If you're not, they're not looking for any new members.
Here's how I make mine:
Take a nice, chunky rocks glass. Fill it with some good quality ice - chunky, tongue-stickingly cold, no wet pub ice and certainly not crushed. Pour over a shot of a bold gin - I like Plymouth - then a shot of vermouth such as Carpano Antica Formula. Finally a shot of Campari - there's no substitute. Give it a stir and add in an orange wedge. Job done.
Ian Cameron is editor at diffordsguide.com, which won the Best Cocktail Writing (Publication) award at the Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans in July 2013. He is a contributing editor to worldsbestbars.com and has written for BBC Olive, GQ, Esquire and The Independent.
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