Negroni: Italian for Ménage a Trois – Evolution of a Three-Part Classic

On February 20 the Museum of the American Cocktail hosted “Negroni: Italian for Ménage a Trois – Evolution of a Three-Part Classic” presented by Luke Johnson, Matt Keller and Dave Lord at the historic Occidental. Typically Luke, Matt and Dave can be found behind the scenes assisting MOTAC Co-Founder Philip Greene at the Museum’s DC-based seminars. This time though the three came forward to feature a cocktail that is witnessing a rebirth of popularity while often caught in a love-hate debate among those cringing at its bitterness and intensity and those drawn by its robust flavors that go against the grain of mainstream cocktail culture.  Not only did the seminar focus on the Negroni, but took the audience on an historical journey reaching back to the Negroni’s roots from the Milano-Torino to the many offspring in the Negroni cocktail family.

Dave Matt and Luke

From left: Dave Lord, Matt Keller and Luke Johnson.

To start things off Matt featured the Americano. Created before the Negroni in the early 1860s by Campari creator Gaspare Campari, the Americano was first called the Milano-Torino, the name alluding to the Campari made in Milan and the sweet vermouth (Cinzano) which came from Turin. The Milano-Torino later became known as the Americano as it became very popular among Americans travelling through Italy during Prohibition. Of the many loopholes in Prohibition, the one allowing for medicinal use of alcohol may have been the reason for this. Considered then by many to have medicinal value, Campari (a bitter) contains ingredients including various fruits, aromatic herbs and spices including quinine, rhubarb, ginseng, and the peel of bitter oranges along with cascarilla bark which gives Campari its distinctive bitterness. Such herbal liqueurs were allowed to be consumed in the US during prohibition (by prescription only, of course – wink-wink) for various “ailments.” Balanced out with sweet vermouth and rounded off with some soda water, the Americano was likely the perfect cocktail for Americans who had acquired a taste for medicinal bitters, some even taking Campari back to the US “under doctor’s orders.”

Luke and Matt prepare an army of Americanos. Photo courtesy of Ana Maria Argudo-Lord.

Americano

1 oz. Campari

1 oz. Martini Rosso Vermouth

1-2 oz. Soda Water

Combine Campari and sweet vermouth in an ice-filled glass, top off with soda water and garnish with a slice of orange or a lemon twist.

Luke then presented to the audience the pièce de résistance, the Negroni. He explained that sometime around 1920 a regular customer at the Caffe Casoni, one Count Camillo Negroni came in and ordered a variation on the popular Americano cocktail – only make it ‘po piu robusto’ – a little stronger – by replacing the club soda with gin. One of the greatest of all classic cocktails was born. Bittersweet, yet enchanting, this drink keeps its followers coming back time and time again…

Luke

Luke makes sure the audience can answer his t-shirt with a resounding YES! Photo courtesy of Ana Maria Argudo-Lord.

Negroni

1 oz. Campari

1 oz. Plymouth Gin

1 oz. Martini Rosso Vermouth

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, stir on ice until well chilled and strained into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with a slice of orange.

For one of the offsprings of the Negroni, Dave showcased the Negroni Sbagliato or “Wrong Negroni” which was created by Mirko Stochetto, owner of the iconic Bar Basso in Milan. In the middle of the 1970’s (probably around 1972 or 1973), Mirko was experiencing a very busy night when he reached for prosecco rather than gin while preparing a Negroni. Realizing his mistake, he offered to make a new drink for the bar guest. The patron declined however, realizing that the addition of prosecco could make for an excellent thirst quencher on a hot day. Thus, the Negroni Sbagliato was born and quickly became Bar Basso’s signature drink.

Dave and Phil

Dave fields questions from the audience at the historic Occidental, just steps from the White House. Photo courtesy of Ana Maria Argudo-Lord.

Negroni Sbagliato

1 oz. Campari

1 oz. Martini Rosso Vermouth

1 oz. Prosecco

Combine the Campari and vermouth in an ice-filled white wine glass, top off with Prosecco and garnish with an orange segment.

For an American twist on the Negroni, Luke turned the audience’s attention to My Old Pal. This classic is similar to the Negroni with its 1:1:1 ratios, only with rye whiskey in place of gin. Created by Harry MacElhone, owner and proprietor of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, this drink appears in his 1922 book, Harry’s ABC of Cocktails, although it’s possible this drink was created as early as 1878 – predating the Negroni by over 40 years. Regardless of which came first, the Old Pal is a delicious drink in its own right. Most authorities suggest using dry vermouth, but sweet vermouth makes for a better, more flavorful cocktail. Who cares if some people believe that the use of sweet vermouth makes it a Boulevardier which is made with bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari.

My Old Pal

1.5 oz. Whistle Pig Rye

1 oz. Martini Rosso Vermouth

1 oz. Campari

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and stir on ice until well chilled, strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. No garnish.

To conclude the seminar, Dave introduced guests to the Jasmine. While not technically a cocktail that people would group into the Negroni family, we included this refreshing sour cocktail for its featuring of the backbone of the Negroni: Campari. The Jasmine was created by bartender Paul Harrington at the Townhouse Bar and Grill in Emeryville, California in the early 1990s. A friend of Paul’s, named Matt Jasmine, asked Paul to come up with a new drink for him. Moments before Matt had taken a bar stool, Paul had made a classic Pegu cocktail (gin, Cointreau, lime, Angostura bitters) for another bar guest. For his new creation, Paul opted to switch out the lime juice for lemon juice, and the Angostura bitters for Campari. When Matt asked Paul what the drink was called, he simply replied, “The Jasmine.” Another guest who later tried it said “Congratulations, you just invented grapefruit juice!” With the drink’s appealing color and strikingly similar taste to grapefruit juice, this drink would become a gateway cocktail for people who were previously opposed to gin.

The Jasmine

1.5 oz. Plymouth Gin

1 oz. Cointreau

.75 oz. Campari

.5 oz. fresh lemon juice

Shake ingredients on ice until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

As a funny story, in preparing for the Negroni seminar, Luke, Matt and Dave thought it would be nice to create an original cocktail to present. After many attempts, and patting themselves on their back for their stroke of brilliance, they came up with a drink they knew would be a hit combining gin, Campari, lemon juice, Cointreau and grapefruit bitters. Thankfully, saving the three from embarrassment, Dave realized they had essentially recreated the Jasmine. Though the three may not be able to take full credit for their creation, here is the recipe for the grapefruit-forward “Accidental Jasmine” which we hope becomes part of your cocktail repertoire:

The Accidental Jasmine

2 oz. Plymouth Gin

1 oz. Campari

.5 oz. fresh lemon juice

.5 oz. Cointreau

1 dash Fee Brothers Grapefruit bitters

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and vigorously shake on ice until well chilled. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of grapefruit.

Sponsors Special thanks to our sponsors, Cointreau, Campari, Fee Brothers (Grapefruit Bitters) and Plymouth Gin, and our friends at Martini and Whistle Pig for donating Martini Rosso Vermouth and Whistle Pig 10 Year Old Rye. A special thanks also to the Occidental Grill and Seafood for providing not only a wonderful venue, but seamless service and great food to accompany the drinks. Whistle Pig and Martini

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