The Weekly Mix: Origins of the Negroni
“Here’s the problem with bartender history,” 2010 DC Rising Star Mixologist Gina Chersevani told her WCR audience last November. “We don’t write anything down.” She ain’t kiddin’. Despite the requisite wordiness of the profession—with its recipes, tall tales, and bar-stool therapy sessions—actual bartending history is short on (we said it) proof. Fortunately, as bartendresses like Chersevani research their way through all the muddled stories, cocktail origins begin to clarify. And thus we have the bittersweet origins of the Negroni, beloved liver-punishing aperitif of cocktail purists everywhere.
As Chersevani explained to her WCR audience, this simple gin-vermouth-Campari perfection was born out of a constellation of factors: Old Country locavorism, the sundry plenty of the Italian forest, bitter business dealings, and the tourist palate. The first two are responsible for the ingredients of the Negroni’s astringently bittersweet sine-qua-non, Campari, an aromatic, herbal fruit and alcohol concoction born in the northern Italian forest. The bitter business dealings come courtesy of Aperol, Campari’s one-time competitor with distant familial connections (and current member of the Gruppo Campari household), who pushed Campari further down to Florence and out of its northern territory.
The story might end there, with Campari sating tourist palates for the mildly exotic with the popular soda-watered-down Campari-vermouth “Americano” (we’ll pretend to ignore that everything delicious and Italian, when watered down, becomes an Americano). But the arrival of gin, coupled with the manlier thirsts of a certain Count Camillo Negroni—who one day demanded gin in place of soda water in his Americano—resulted in the birth of the “Negroni” as we know it today. And for Chersevani, and her newly inebriated initiated class at WCR, it’s a formula and story worth preserving. Her version of the drink is faithfully classic, a 1:1:1 mixture of Plymouth gin, Campari, and vermouth (she tends to favor Punt y Mes), with an orange peel garnish. “Equivalent to a perfectly poached egg,” says Chersevani. “Round and silky with a touch of sweetness.” And if you're looking for a slight, but rewarding, departure from the classic perfection? "Salt," says Chersevani. "It's just so good with all the bitter ingredients. Just saying."