I type this from my porch, literally while bird watching; I am now old. With context now set, I want to thank Campari for being a really good sport about Negroni Week.
9 out of 10 Negronis I saw on menus this week were bereft of Campari. At the risk of expressing a very unpopular opinion amongst bartenders and being a starfucker, I’d like to go on record and say I believe in branded cocktails.
Kick that around for a minute before I back pedal.
Fuck Pusser’s rum for picking on a little bar and fuck Gosling’s for insisting a truly shitty rum is required for a Dark n’ Stormy. But brands carry cocktails forward. It is the bartender’s duty, and Dave Wondrich’s job, to research the origin of these cocktails and understand the intent & flavor of the original cocktail. If you had to choose between the most authentic Dark n’ Stormy, or an “unnamed cocktail” of your favorite dark rum, artesian ginger beer & a $5 lime wedge, what would you choose? Keep in mind, you are not in Bermuda when you decide.
History & imagination shows me a Negroni starting with high proof gin, sweet Italian vermouth & Campari on likely large craggy rocks. This is a provincial & conservative view, in my brain, it glows like a stained glass window.
I can recognize that is too conservative in modern times. I won’t send back a Negroni in a V-shaped cocktail glass or one made with with French vermouth. But I also won’t insist or believe that Carpano Antica is a better choice simply because it is Italian. That’s like saying: roses smell better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.*
I believe that we are lucky to live in in a world now where we can over-catalog a cocktail’s origin. The Penicillin Cocktail is a great example of this: I’ve seen it on bullshit consultant cocktail menus made with Jack Daniel’s. Without keeping our culture, what’s to say that barfolk 100 years from now wouldn’t know that is an abomination? Luckily we can ask Sam Ross, the progenitor of the Pencillin, and he’ll tell you that the recipe started with Compass Box Asyla & Peat Monster. Are those brands important to the drink? Compass Box would say, “yes” but it’s Sam’s drink so go ask him.
I believe there is an implicit agreement when ordering a Negroni that you will receive Campari. The Bacardi Company, for evil or awesome, would have to agree to this- their 1936 New York Supreme Court case requiring the use of Bacardi in a Bacardi Cocktail sets a precedent. Another precedent is easily set with the simple rule- NEW INGREDIENT-NEW COCKTAIL. Who knows what a Boulevardier is?
There is a difference between a Negroni and a Negroni template. Both are great, but they are unrelated at their core, they are just cordial to each other, like a divorced couple that got married in their 20’s.
Times change and believe it or not, I actually don’t want to be the Negroni Police. I’d rather just get “Negroked**” with the rest of you. With one last thanks to Campari for being a good sport where others have been jerks, here are my expectations in order of importance. After the first 3, which are REQUIREMENTS, the rest are all up for grabs.
- Tastes good
- Has gin, sweet vermouth, a third ingredient & is cold
- Orange zest
- Has Campari
- Equal-ish parts
- Balanced with ingredients chosen
- Not made with Carpano Antica
- On the rocks
- In a chilled glass
- In absence of Campari, has another previously agreed upon (between the bartender and myself) red bitter liqueur
*a gin that can stand up to Carpano Antica is not a gin I want to drink
**drunk on fancy drinks, specifically the Negroni