Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Negroni

The Negroni is one of those acquired taste cocktails, reserved for those who like their drinks to 'activate' their senses as opposed to those who like a drink to 'numb' said senses. You know who you are.

Originally a modification of the Americano cocktail in Italy, an old dead guy by the name of Mr Negroni, asked the bartender to add replace the "weak" soda water with something more powerful. In this case, it was Gin. Ironically, the Negroni is not known for its 'power' but rather, it's finesse. Of course, you have to use a little finesse to create a good one. The first Negroni I ever had was after a gentleman requested one at a high end bar I worked at in London. To be honest, in my previous life as an American bartender catering to 20 somethings, I had never even heard of the Negroni, but seeing as this gentleman's socks probably cost more than my whole outfit, I didn't want to disappoint. Fortunately for me, it was an Italian bar/restaurant staffed almost entirely by just off the boat/plane Italians and I got a good starting point...the ingredients, from my fellow cast members.

"Gin, Campari, fortified wine (in thickest italian half english)"

Okay, now I knew what was in it, I just had to figure out how to construct it. Figuring it was an italian concept, derived from the Americano, I assumed safely it was to be built on ice in a tumbler (whisky glass as I call it). Using my Martini knowledge I also knew that Campari would blanket the taste of the Gin, and fortified wine would enhance the flavor of the Gin. This lead me to believe that the proportions would be relatively the same for all three ingredients. It was by this (some would call bizarre) logic of mine that I quite confidently replicated the Negroni cocktail without ever having "learned" it.

This is a very important difference between a "Mixologist" and a chain restaurant bartender who generally gets a lot of tips because he can remake the same drinks over and over because he has learned it, but doesn't know why it is a good/bad drink. The Negroni is a perfect example of something that works because the originator of the Americano, and the bartender/s that formed the Negroni as we now know it, understood the properties of the ingredients, and the effects of their own actions on the complexities of the drink. That's why if you go into a London pub or a TGIF's and order a Negroni you might get a glass of poison in return.

Here is how I make my Negroni for myself as well as my patrons.

1 1/4 oz Tanqueray Gin
1 1/4 oz Campari bitters
1 oz Sweet Vermouth (I use Martini Rosso)

Pour all ingredients into mixing glass and top with ice. Placing the handle end of your bar spoon into the middle of the ice, stir gently, moving only the ice in a smooth, silent rotation. Just as we did in the Manhattan and Martini, we rotate the ice as one entity, not a bunch of tumbling noisy banging cubes of ice. This does two things that are very important when making a delicious Negroni for someone at your bar. First, it will not annoy the customer with clattering spoons, flying ice cubes, or ice crunching sounds (which to me are as bad as fingernails on a chalkboard). Secondly, it will dilute the drink without breaking shards of ice off into the drink. You might be thinking, if we're pouring it on ice anyway, what's the big deal? Well, that brings us to the last step. The "plating" of the dish as it were. If you're in the United States, there's a good chance that your customer, house policies, American beliefs, whatever, will want you to strain the drink into a chilled martini glass. And despite what some "bartenders" and patrons alike think, ice shards in a strained cocktail defeat the whole purpose of using a strainer in the first place, and all practicing bartenders know, a three prong strainer will not prevent these shards from coming through, so why make them in the first place? And if you're in Europe, it's most likely you will strain the drink into a whisky glass with either no ice, or just a couple of cubes, and thus you do not want those ugly, and texture altering ice shards in there either.

Think about it this way, just because there is parsley in a recipe, doesn't mean you want a bunch of dried parsley on top of your food changing the texture of something that already has the flavour in the dish.

Enjoy!

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