Site icon Tom Lasher Walker

A Hundred Years Young and Still Going Strong; Here’s to the Negroni

The first time I ever tried a Negroni, I’d been bartending for less than a year, maybe only about six months or so.

One of my mentors and bosses at the time made me one after work one night after I read about it in Difford’s Guide and I asked my superiors about it, my mentors gently dissuading my curiosity about the drink and its, ahem, acquired taste. 

The bar had already been broken down and everyone was having their staff drink – this was generally a pint of Lindeboom, the go to staff beer at the time – though my boss proceeded to make one and built the drink in the glass, equal parts, free poured to perfection. 

He went down to the basement to the ice machine and added ice to the glass, and came back upstairs and garnished it with an orange wedge and handed it to me.

‘Here’, he said, plonking the drink in my hand. ‘Let’s see what you think of this’.

I took a sip of it, twisted my face up because I thought it tasted like recycled ass water, and gave it to one of my other superiors – who drank it in three minutes flat – whilst the rest of the crew had a good laugh at my expense (and rightfully so). 

It was one of the rare occasions that a drink was marked down as wastage, the rest of the off-duty squad slapping their knees at the inevitable outcome that comes with a young man who is at the beginning of his bartending career when they try Campari for the first time. 

When it comes to the Negroni, everyone remembers their first encounter, especially if you bartended in an era when it wasn’t a popular request.

Thing is, is that it took me a long time to like Campari, to the point where if I added up everything I’d spent, it would probably amount to hundreds (and maybe thousands) of dollars worth of drinks as I gritted my teeth through all the Campari shots and Negroni bar calls that happened when I was on nights out with bartender friends and colleagues. 

And the ironic thing? By the time I came round to liking Negronis, I was entering my 30s. At this age,  drinking goes from a casual past time to a hardcore challenge of serious endurance, as the body fights to breakdown all the sugars and alcohol associated with such a bittersweet drink at a time when anything other than kale and sprouts are considered poison to the system.

If truth be told – and to borrow a line from one of the numerous established career bartenders who may (or may not) have quoted the following line – Campari really is like anal sex; it takes several attempts before you enjoy it, assuming of course you have the stamina to put up with something that’s extremely displeasing to the point where you can tolerate it for the benefit of keeping up with appearances.  

But don’t get me wrong, the Negroni is definitely a pleasing drink, and one that you can rarely get wrong, assuming you stick to the three ingredients. 

You want a lower ABV version? You got it; load that drink up with sweet vermouth. Too sweet for you? No problem fam; let’s go gin heavy and dial everything back. Like that shit bitter AF? Cool; just free pour that Campari until I say when.

The Negroni has had an interesting lifespan, especially over the last few years, as it went from a dustbin classic drink that no one wanted to remember, to a drink that was riding the wave of obscure flavors that eventually made its way to the mainstream.

In 2010s, the Negroni was the drink that divided opinion, either because people thought it was actually super tasty and on trend, or because it was a hipster-inspired movement where people forced themselves to drink something they didn’t like out of sheer trend following. 

And if any of you for whatever reason you are looking to start a European War for the 21st century, then here it is; tell an Italian that the drink is actually of French origin, or better still, may have originated in Africa in the mid to late 1800s…

Add all ingredients to a rocks glass. Add one large jumbo ice cube, stir 5 – 6 times and garnish with an orange twist.
Recipe adapted from Cien Cocktails, J.S. Brucart, 1943

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