Friday, June 6th, 2014

Death to Negronis

An aperitif is a bitterish alcoholic beverage that was originally meant to be served before a meal to stimulate the appetite because people in the nineteenth century believed all sorts of wonderful things about alcohol, which they had to drink constantly because water, prior to modern sanitation, was a biohazard. Also it's sort of weird to think that you needed to drink alcohol to become hungry since basically everyone was starving all the time back then.

Anyway, one aperitif is called the negroni. It is a cocktail that is made, typically, with one part gin (a neutral spirit not unlike vodka, but with plant stuff, most commonly and notably, juniper berries); one part sweet vermouth (a fortified wine with plant stuff); and one part Campari (a pinkish, bitter liqueur…with plant stuff). A million, literally a million, articles have recounted the negroni's origins, usually by stating "so the story goes" or "so the tale goes," before going on to recall that it was named for Count Negroni, a man who preferred gin to soda because he was in fact a monster. The negroni was relatively obscure in America until the mid-aughts or so; a Times piece in 2002 described it as "a relative stranger on these shores," but for San Francisco, which was "the stronghold of the drink in this country." Its popularity grew slowly, until circa 2010-2012, when everybody who intensely talks about things like beverages lost their collective shit over it. (The numbers support this teleology: Campari, the linchpin of the drink and most of variations, saw sales rise just four per cent from 2009 to 2010, but then sixteen per cent year over year from 2010 to 2011, followed by twelve per cent growth the following two years. This is likely driven by negronis, rather than the more refreshing Americano.)

When made properly—not too heavy on the gin, not with shitty vermouth and without telling anyone next to you how great it is—the negroni is perfectly fine. It has, itself, committed no sins. However, if you were to put everybody who is dying to tell you how much they like negronis into a bar, it would be the single largest and worst bar in the world, a sticky cesspool of people, standing should to shoulder, talking animatedly about nothing except how wonderfully the negroni balances its floral, herbal notes with bitterness and sweetness; how they can't believe that other people don't love them as much as they do, what is wrong with their palate; how they had the best negroni of their life at some bar you've never been to, or in Italy (which is a steadfast lie, because no one in Italy knows how to make cocktails); how their own slightly tweaked proportion of clear liquor to sweet wine-liquor to bitter pink liquor is in fact the best of all possible negroni variations, and while the negroni spinoffs like the far sturdier boulevardier, with a backbone of whiskey, are fine, the true negroni is better and able to be enjoyed at all times of day, but most especially during negroni season, which is a lie and doesn't make any sense because if it's actually really hot you should probably be drinking beer or seltzer with a lime, not a syrupy concoction all too often served up, rather than on the rocks.

The subtext of the discussion at this mythical world's-most-awful bar, which might actually exist on the Internet, is that anyone who enjoy negronis has an incredibly distinguished palate which allows them to fully enjoy negronis in a way that most people can't appreciate. One person told the Times that the negroni is "a sophisticated cocktail, too, for an audience that appreciates the cocktail and the story behind it." Bon Appetit described the negroni at one point as "a secret handshake, a sign to bartenders that you knew what you liked, and how to order it." Serious Eats calls it "a serious drink for serious drinkers." GQ says, "A Negroni, like black coffee or Texas, is an acquired taste."

This notion hinges on the negroni's purported bitterness and botanicals, and the way it balances these flavors. But one third of its profile is sweet vermouth, like Carpano Antica—this, by the way, is when a negroni drinker will pop up and offer their own preferred vermouth, such as Punt e Mes or Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, particularly since there is a slight Carpano Antica backlash that seems to be brewing given its ubiquity in cocktail establishments—which is thick and rich and powerful and sweet. The negroni, in other words, is a generally sweet cocktail for people who wants to say that they enjoy the bitter things in life, a loud clamoring brought upon in part by the Great American Palate Shift, which venerates bitterness as way to celebrate the superiority of its proponents vis-a-vis their conquest of both evolutionary biology (our inherent primate brains associate bitterness with poison) and mainstream American taste (which demands only salt, fat and sugar).

As the primary medium by which Campari makes its way down the gullet of Americans who believe themselves to be tastemakers, Campari, the company, cares deeply about the ongoing success of the Negroni (look at those sales!). It has even succeeded, in partnership with Imbibe, in making #NegroniWeek a real thing that is currently taking place. Participating bars around the country are donating one or two dollars from each negroni sale to a charity of their choice. (Which, before I proceed, all donations to local charities, whatever the reason, are of course inherently good. BUT.) Campari is promising to give ten thousand dollars to the charity of the bar that raises the most money by selling the most negronis. A case of twelve bottles of Campari goes for three hundred and forty dollars at Astor Wine & Spirits (though obviously bars pay less than this). It is expecting more than eleven hundred bars to participate, raising at least one hundred thousand dollars, making for roughly ninety thousand negronis. That's a lot of Campari. For this, the company is giving just ten thousand dollars to charity.

The negroni cannot support the weight of a cause, much less an entire belief system, despite everything that its adherents have poured into it. It's a drink. A drinkable one. I guess. Sometimes. Drink it if you want. Or drink a beer. Or literally anything else. Just don't tell anybody about it.

"Carbonated negroni" photo by Bart Everson.

27 Comments / Post A Comment

Matthew Lawrence (#3,423)

I was going to say I'm really disappointed that The Awl is suddenly anti-Negroni but then I remembered that Negroni Season was also pretty anti-Negroni. Also, you know, five years ago. Nice to see the implementation of the HEY MATT THIS IS JOHN TAGGING IS EVERYTHING OK tag, though!

blergh (#177,628)

"Neg-ron-i Season! Neg-ron-i Season! Whoooooo!"

deepomega (#1,720)

I was in a bar in Melbourne two years ago, meeting an Australian friend who I knew only thru twitter. He suggested the place, which as near as I can tell was an "American-themed-bar" made by people who HAD been to America, but PRETENDED they hadn't. This was where I first had an Americano – a drink so sickly-sweet and yet bitter at the same time, that I assumed it was a political statement about America invented by the bar. I winced, drinking it, but I also nodded with mutual respect. We had earned this disgusting fucking drink, and it was a point well-taken that they'd named it after us.

Only later did I discover the drink was far older and far less pointed. So fuck Americanos.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@deepomega: I ordered an Americano at a fancy bar in Palm Springs. The bartender regarded me a bit quizzically, and then disappeared for several minutes. "Hmm, I guess he's gotta go find the Campari," I thought to myself. He returned with my companion's drink and advised my Americano was on the way. And sure enough, a waiter appeared at my side shortly thereafter with a cup of coffee for me.

Lexilu2004 (#277,406)

Great article !! Am reading a lot since I can't locate my PHONE. Matt-please call my number so I can hear it ring. Thanks…Also-I like ALL drinks since I worked in a bar. You gotta try them all. Anyway-you know my #- pls call it. Too bad car keys don't ring-they are lost too.

holdup!holdmyphone! (#274,038)

the negroni is basically an excuse for white people to say the n-word

Smitros (#5,315)

@holdup!holdmyphone! That drink is a credit to its glass.

scrooge (#2,697)

Nice article by a man of obviously impeccable taste and named after a very respectable old brand of Scotch whisky.

Freddie DeBoer (#4,188)

"since basically everyone was starving all the time in the eighteen hundreds."


Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@Freddie DeBoer good comment, ty

Freddie DeBoer (#4,188)

@Matt Buchanan What you said was factually inaccurate. I get that that's no big deal for you or your career, but some of us still think that people who write down facts, professionally, for public consumption, have a responsibility to get those facts right. Crazy, I know.

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@Freddie DeBoer I apologize for not telegraphing obviously enough that it, like " A million, literally a million, articles have recounted the negroni's origins," were exaggerations designed for ever-so-mild comedic effect. Not everyone was starving in the 1800s, nor are there literally a million articles recounting the origins of the negroni. I regret the error.

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@Freddie DeBoer In full disclosure, I also don't know if actually everyone lost their shit over the negroni, or if it was most people, or even just a handful of rather talkative people.

Mr. B (#10,093)

you should probably be drinking beer or seltzer with a lime


BadUncle (#153)

Good article about a drink to be consumed by a motor-scooter rider wearing a fez and smoking with a cigarette holder. I had a serious thing for negronis in the 90s, when WFMU's Irwin Chusid and Joseph Lanza (author of "Elevator Music"), DJ'd loungecore at a weekly bar event. According to those guys, the negroni was as much an American old man beverage as the martini, though it was discarded with WWII (Campari being an Axis liqueur, of course). One quibble: gin is not a "neutral spirit." By definition, a neutral spirit is effectively flavorless, and gin is anything but.

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@BadUncle Gin is a neutral spirit flavored with botanicals, or as I put it, "plant stuff."

BadUncle (#153)

@Matt Buchanan By the same token, bourbon would be a neutral spirit flavored with a seasoned oak cask – also a kind of plant stuff.

daemonsquire (#9,523)

@BadUncle I've got to pay attention to the wording on labels more closely. I'd long presumed that what separates gin from a juniper/"plant stuff" flavored vodka, is that gin was distilled with the asst'd botanicals, and not just steeped with them, like a flavored vodka. But if Wikipedia is to be believed, that only holds true for "distilled gin" or "London gin". It is however apparently legally acceptable to soak some juniper berries in vodka for a bit, and slap "gin" on the label. Who knew? (Matt Buchanan, I guess)

BadUncle (#153)

@BadUncle The Feds have an actual definition for licensed "neutral spirits." They have to be flavorless. If not, they're not "neutral." Accordingly, all plain, grain vodka should taste identically – though connoisseurs insist they each have their own nuance. Maybe so, but the minute you throw in vermouth or tonic or tomato juice, you may as well buy the squeeze bottles of Popov.

BoHan (#29)

Annually, on 5-28, we collectively scream that it's motherfucking negroni season. And so it goes. So fun.

Seriously, ordering a cocktail is no substitute for having a personality.

Smitros (#5,315)

@Subway Suicide@twitter In my experience it usually takes three or four.

trenches (#219,719)

Hey great article, thought I'd contribute my personal sweet vermouth picks. Got a chance to try these over the past year (did a year on a sailboat around the Med); some of these are seriously blowing my mind:

1. Ile Tenerife Rouge
2. Ampersand Blank Vin
3. Dave P's 'Groni Fixin's
4. La Descente de Croix (best for fro-gros)
5. Rachael Ray's 1:1:1 Everyday Simplicity

flossy (#1,402)

Negronis and suit jackets with shorts?

Jeez, fellas. You don't have to cover ALL the greatest hits on day one.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

2-parts booze (tequila or rye), 1-part Genepy, a splash of Campari, some shakes of ango, and a garnish of any citrus peel.

@whizz_dumb I wanted to "get into" negronis since people spoke so highly of them…I bought all the stuff but then realized I don't like sweet vermouth! But I do really like Campari! I have created the Shangroni (just negroni but with my name in it, I have also made Shangria)…it's gin, Campari, tonic, and a splash of orange juice. It tastes like herbal grapefruit juice with no booze in it, it's weird but very delicious!

ashley76 (#280,524)

just a shout testimony about my past and recent result, I want to inform you all that there is a spell caster that is genuine and real. I never really believed in any of these things but when I was losing my husband to another lady, I needed help and somewhere to turn badly. I found consultant.Dr Ekaka spells and i ordered a LOVE SPELL. Several days later, my phone rang. and it was my husband was his old self again and wanted to come back to me! Not only come back, the spell caster opened him up to how much I loved and needed him. Spell Casting isn't brainwashing, but they opened his eyes to know how much we have to share together. I recommend anyone who is in my old situation to try it. It will bring you wonderful surprises as well as your lover back to you. The way things were meant to be you can contact the spell caster on he's very nice and great.

Post a Comment