Sunday 17 November 2013

Golden Ratios: The Negroni

To finish off the concept of ‘golden ratios,’ we are going to examine two more influential structures. One is a true classic perhaps more popular today than ever, and the other is a contemporary classic, young in age but old in sensibility and inspiration.

Beginning with the former in 1919, Florence, Italy, the story goes that Count Negroni requested a stronger version of his favourite cocktail - the Milano Torino (later known as the Americano - you can see a more detailed discussion here). This drink is a mixture of three elements - Torino vermouth (what we now typically call simply “sweet”), Campari, and soda water on the rocks with a lemon garnish. Swapping the soda for gin and the lemon for orange created one of most enduring classics there is, aptly named the “Negroni.” The beauty of the drink is that each ingredient - spirit, vermouth, amaro - are present in equal parts and balance together perfectly. It is the perfect aperitif: dry enough to stimulate the palate, not too sweet, not too bitter, and not too strong. Variations came about quickly, showing in print as early as 1927 from Harry McElhone’s American Bar in Paris. This most famous twist, called the Boulevardier, swaps gin for bourbon, and in American fashion, is served up rather than on ice. Swapping bourbon for rye and sweet vermouth for dry gives us the Old Pal, and the list goes on. Given how many spirit, fortified wine, and amaro options there are, the possibilities are numerous, but being creative about the structure itself can allow you to create some truly interesting and unique tasting cocktails.

The Negroni is defined not so much by looking at the ingredients this way:
1 part spirit
1 part fortified wine
1 part amaro 

but rather this way:
1 part dry
1 part sweet
1 part bitter

Below are some classic and contemporary examples. The newer additions include the Negroni Sbagliato (meaning literally “mistaken” because the bartender grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine instead of gin) from mid 20th century Milan, the Hoighty Toighty from Amor y Amargo in New York, the Stenson (named after influential bartender Murray Stenson) from Pourhouse in Vancouver, and The Black Rider, from yours truly. 

Name                    Dry            Sweet               Bitter            Additions
Negroni                      gin               sweet vermouth      Campari           rocks, orange twist
Boulevardier             bourbon        sweet vermouth      Campari           orange twist
Old Pal*                     rye              dry vermouth          Campari   
Negroni Sbagliato     sparkling      sweet vermouth      Campari           orange twist
Hoighty Toighty         genever        sweet vermouth      Cynar              orange twist
Stenson                     bourbon       Calvados                Averna             Boker’s bitters
The Black Rider**     mezcal         brandy                  Cynar (¾)

* for the Old Pal, while the original recipes call for Canadian rye whisky, be aware that due to lack of regulation, the majority of Canadian whisky today contains no rye at all. This drink should be made with American rye for good results.

** for The Black Rider, use a softer mezcal like Fidencio, and a big, fruity brandy like Torres 5-Year Old.

Next time we’ll look at some applications of the Red Hook.

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