Beyond The Negroni
Is Classic Italian Aperitif Inspiring Next Generation?
A well-to-do Italian guy strolled into a Florence-based hotel bar in 1919 and requested something other than an Americano, a cocktail comprised of the bittersweet liqueur Campari, sweet vermouth, club soda and an orange wedge. He desired something a bit stronger, so he asked the bartender to replace the club soda with gin. And that’s how the Negroni was born, and named in honor of Count Camillo Negroni.
Today, the Negroni is requested more than ever before, according to New York-based bartender Joe Campanale. That’s because Americans are a lot more open to bitter flavors since the craft cocktail movement took the nation by storm several years ago.
As beverage director at popular Italian-inspired haunts Anfora, dell’anima, L’Apicio and L’Artusi, Campanale is certainly on top of drinking trends.
“We also seem to have an insatiable appetite for all things Italian in this country,” observes Campanale, adding that the “Negroni is a bartender’s favorite.” But with all the hype surrounding the classic drink, it makes one wonder what else is out there.
Campanale suggests a crash course in aperitivi is key to learning about additional Italian-focused cocktails and spirits. Most beverage professionals are acquainted with Campari, but Aperol, Cynar and Capelletti also “offer a ton of complexity,” says Campanale. “They have an appealing, bittersweet character that makes the mouth water.”
Aperol is made of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and cinchona; Cynar is an artichoke-based liqueur with 13 herbs and plants; and Capelletti is an artisanal wine-based offering from an Italian family that’s been in the wine-making business for four generations. They may all be used to add a different perspective on the Negroni, or, Campanale suggests, paired with prosecco or club soda for a spritz cocktail.
Spritz-styled cocktails are low in alcohol content, so they pair ideally with most dishes because they don’t overpower them. Campanale highly recommends reading Spritz (Ten Speed Press, 2016) as a way to get familiarized with the bubbly aperitivo cocktail. Written by food and drink journalists Talia Baiocchi (Bon Appétit, Punch, Saveur) and Leslie Pariseau (New York Times, GQ, Esquire, Punch, Saveur), the guide uncovers the drink’s history and features 50 classic and modern recipes. Campanale admits that because there aren’t many classic Italian cocktails available, there is plenty of room for interpretation.
Lynn House, who serves as the national brand educator for Heaven Hill Brands, has spent much of her hospitality career creating new riffs on old favorites. When she was the first-ever beverage director at the award-winning, Chicago-based restaurant Blackbird, she created The Contessa, a not-so-bitter version of the Negroni. Her reasoning for toning it down: “I incorporated classic American brands so that the cocktails would be accessible to an American audience.”
- 1 ounce PAMA
- 1 ounce Aperol
- 1 ounce London Dry Gin
- 1.5 ounce Prosecco
- 1 orange zest
In a mixing glass add PAMA, Aperol and gin. Ice and stir until well chilled. Next, add Prosecco and stir one more time to incorporate the sparkling wine. Strain cocktail into either a coupe or cocktail glass. Express orange zest over cocktail. Garnish with orange twist.