The Negroni

[Note: This post was posted earlier this week but I deleted and then re-posted it. It was erroneously posted to pages not posts and the comments didn’t show properly. Feel free to re-submit comments or new ones].

Never on a Sunday – Not

At an event today at the estimable Spirit House at Portland corner Adelaide in Toronto, I drank a Negroni, the Italian-originated composite of gin, red vermouth, and Campari Bitters. The gin was a craft gin, and the vermouth, a new item from craft distiller Dillon’s in Niagara, Ontario.

The first time I heard of this drink was in 1978, where one of the senior partners of the firm I worked at had a fondness for it. He was an aficionado of Italy in general, and gave tours there after retirement until his untimely death. I usually have the ingredients ready to hand, but almost never make it – I just don’t think of it. The Spirit House version used the classic orange garnish and was extremely good, slightly sweet, herbal, refreshing. It was served with rocks in this case in a large tumbler.

The history of the Negroni is controversial, you can read details in the informative Wikipedia entry for the drink. The name must be related to a Negroni family member, but which family or branch, and when, seems still unclear. One of the theories puts it back to the 1860s in Senegal, yet. The tropical locale is not as odd as it seems as gin was regarded as a specific then, for various maladies of the hot lands, at least when mixed with things like tonic water (quinine) and bitters.

Maybe one day it will all become clear.

In Frederick Martin’s c. 1970 The Encyclopedia of Drinks and Drinking, the author departs from the norm by counselling two parts gin to one each of the vermouth and Campari. Usually it is one part each. Leave it to an Englishman to pour the gin hard, but perhaps he goes heavy on the spirit because of the soda addition, an Italian habit, too, I understand. But served sans the seltzer as often done here, one part of each alcohol seems right I think.

There is something about the name that probably contributed to the fame of the drink, a romantic element surely. Chianti, Negroni, Friuli, Napoli, all these Italian names arouse ideas of scented winds coursing through ancient olive groves, or caressing the superstructure of yachts entering the parti-coloured ports of the Italian Riviera.

Well, perhaps fame is not quite right, but bon ton, anyway, as befits a cocktail invented by a count. Not the right language, but France is just around the corner from those ports and anyway I’ve obtruded Greece in these matters. We must resign to use of a “Mediterranean” idiom.

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