At the time of writing this, Italy is beginning to loosen itself slowly out of lockdown, gingerly rolling up the shutters of its shops and bars and squinting rather apprehensively to the future – and what the summer may bring.
The idea of being sat at a small table, overlooking a sun-kissed Florentine piazza, enjoying an evening aperitivi is acutely appealing at the best of times but, now, during lockdown, it’s almost too painful to imagine.
While Italy is the birthplace of both the ‘aperitivi’ and the ‘digestivi’, archetypal Italian elbow-bending occasions essential for those seeking the true “La Dolce Vita”, we’ve been desperately trying to recreate a “Little Italy” during lockdown.
With the weather unseasonably pleasant and amid the hell of home schooling and domestic drudgery of our current existence, the seven o’clock ‘aperitivi’ sundowner has become the highlight of our Groundhog days.
Most evenings, we’ve both been enjoying that all-Italian classic pre-prandrial cockail; The Negroni – and it turns out, we’re not the only ones. A few weeks ago, we started a new podcast called “Around The World in 80 Drinks”, a weekly alcohol-fuelled journey to interesting and amusing drinking destinations.
Each episode, we taste both a beer and a spirit/cocktail, explore the people, the places and the past behind each bottle, and invite listeners to enjoy them with us. It’s full of fascinating facts, some indulgent anecdotes, a few puns and a knob gag or two if you’re lucky.
Anyway, we digress. Lots of people have got in touch asking us to feature The Negroni – and ahead of Negroni Week at the beginning of June (1-7), we will e doing just that. The soar away success of the Negroni in recent years has been as impressive as it has been rather baffling.
It really wasn’t that long ago that the Negroni was the exclusive domain of the connoisseur drinker with a developed palate. Perceived wisdom is that debutante drinkers require 20 attempts at a Negroni before they can truly manage the acutely bitter burst of botanicals, gin, Campari and vermouth.
Yet now, buoyed by the gin boom, the Negroni has gone from cult cocktail to mainstream bar-call and is, arguably, enjoying more global adoration than it ever has since it was first created back in 1919 – when, purportedly, Count Camillo Negroni ordered an Americano, with an added jolt of gin, in Florence’s Caffe Giacosa.
The Negroni is spearheading a remarkable renaissance in aperitivo cocktails and also helping revive other Campari-driven classics such as the Boulevardier (bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari) and, indeed, the Americano (Campari, Martini and soda).
During Negroni Week, why not clustering the classic Campari together with some sweet vermouths and boutique and classic gins, not forgetting Four Pillars Spiced Negroni. It also makes a perfect delivery package too – especially when transported by scooter for that extra Italian touch.
Bitterness, it seems, is back. After years of pandering to palates sweeter than a puppy in a tutu, we’re witnessing a shift towards cocktails that draw in the cheeks and provide something savory to get our salivary glands going.
If it’s made with quality ingredients and served over decent ice, the slow dilution helps open up the fresher citrus character to offset the harsher notes. True, there’s bitterness, but there’s a substantial sweetness too.
Bittersweet, much like that dream of sipping a Negroni in that Italian piazza.
Negroni recipe | How to make a classic Negroni:
On the surface very easy, but practice will make perfect, the trick is decent ingredients and quality ice. Trays from the freezer will dilute quickly and ruin the drink. We’ve been using Plymouth gin recently, simply because it has sweeter botanicals, and Carparno Antica for a touch of weight, both in flavour and heritage.
30ml sweet vermouth
Stir all the ingredients with ice. Strain over ice and garnish with an orange twist.