The Negroni: A classic (and classy) Italian cocktail that's not just for the older folks

Most nicer local watering holes and restaurants can make them, like SideBern’s, but few know the drink by name, so be prepared to recite the recipe. And don’t give up if it takes the bartender a few tries to nail the formula.


Of course, you can make your own at home. Ingredients can be found in most liquor stores around Tampa Bay. There are two ways to assemble a Negroni: on the rocks (on ice) or up (without ice). Some folks contend the rocks way is best (I like both).


Rocks version: In a cocktail mixer full of ice combine equal parts gin (good stuff only), Campari and sweet vermouth (Carpano’s bitter-sweet concoction, Punt e Mes, is good; the Carpano Antica, even better). Stir, and strain into a chilled rocks glass, filled with ice. Drop in a slice of orange. A slash of soda water adds a fizzy kick.


The up version is made the same, except you strain the drink into a chilled cocktail (or martini) glass, then garnish with a thin strip of orange peel or twist (spritz, or twist, the peel over the drink so that you release some of the citrus oils into the drink).


The Negroni goes really well with briny olives or nuts. I prefer my Negroni with a little less sweet vermouth and a tad more gin. Experiment with what formula works best for you.


For a nifty riff on this classic cocktail – especially welcome if you’re not crazy about Campari’s bitter tones – try an aptly named "Unusual Negroni" by mixologist Charlotte Voisey. The Campari is replaced by Aperol, a bright, orangey Italian liqueur; sweet vermouth is subbed by Lillet Blanc, a light and zingy French aperitif wine concoction. The result is a lovely drink. It also doesn’t seem to pack the alcoholic punch of a traditional Negroni – which makes it ideal for a pre-lunch drink.


To make one, combine 1 oz. gin, 1 oz. Aperol and 1 oz. Lillet Blanc in mixing glass. Stir over ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Spritz a strip of orange peel and drop into the drink.


Enjoy!

Ask most people who don’t yet receive Social Security checks in the mail what sorts of aperitifs they like, and your audience will likely imagine musty old ladies sipping what tastes like cough syrup from tiny glasses while peering over bifocals at their bridge hands.

I did too. Until I began trying some of these drinks.

Let’s start with one you can (and should) start supper with – an aperitif called the Negroni.

The first one of these I had was in its home country of Italy, in the absurdly beautiful lobby bar of the , the drink’s birthplace. At the first sip, I was hooked. Pleasingly bitter and sweet and tart all at the same time, the Negroni was the perfect pre-supper drink. My then-girlfriend-now-wife, Gail, and I ordered two apiece, and we would have kept going but it was obvious that any more and we might not make it to dinner.

True, my mad crush on this drink might also have been influenced by having tromped up and down stairs and along narrow, cobbled streets all day. And I know how seductive context can be in making strange tastes even better – especially if that place is a former 18th century palace and you’re thirsty enough to drink bath water. That’s why one of the first things we did when we got home to Tampa was get the ingredients (we’d bugged the bartender at the Grand for the recipe) and make our own. We found that Negronis are still great; but they do taste even better in Italy. Still, that’s no reason not to try them anywhere.

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