The Negroni Never Goes Out Of Style
Image Credit: Negroni Cocktail

Given the gaping holes in both stories, we'll never really know how the drink truly came to be. The more popular tale revolves around the French noble Count Camillo Negroni. The count was known for his penchant for Americanos, a cocktail similar to the Negroni, made with Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda. One day, the man decided that the drink simply wasn't strong enough for his liking, and asked his bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to swap out the soda for gin (the count was no stranger to the drink since he was half English). Lo and behold, the Negroni was born.

The drink instantly gained immense renown on Italian shores, and nearly every bar in the country would soon pour various versions of the drink. Well, not quite. This story was declared a myth since the descendants of the Negroni family claimed that there was no mention of the count in the family records, a claim that has been proven wrong by Luca Picchi, an Italian bartender considered to be the world's foremost expert on the drink. Picchi found evidence of the count’s return from America, thereby making this claim the more believable one.

The second tale is centered around the count’s predecessor Pascal Olivier de Negroni de Cardi. Pascal was a general who served in the French army from 1855-1865. He was said to have invented the drink as a gift to his bride when they were stationed out in Senegal in western Africa. This however, does not make sense given that a third of the cocktail, Campari, was only invented in 1860, and there was no way the general could have gotten his hands on it where he was stationed. Moreover, this count died in 1913, while the drink was virtually unheard of up until 1919.

So as fans of the cocktail debate the origins (most experts as well as the Campari brand generally accept the story that involves the count), there is one thing that remains clear: the recipe for the drink. The IBA certified cocktail is made with three ingredients, namely, Campari, gin, and vermouth, all in equal parts. The drink is served over ice and garnished with an orange peel. It is unclear whether it was the count or the bartender that made this addition, but the intent was to use the garnish to differentiate it from the Americano.

The Negroni remains a favorite today amongst bartenders and patrons alike. The drink has seen several classic and modern variations. The oldest of the lot is the Boulevardier, which was first concocted by Erskine Gwynne, the American-born publisher of the French magazine Boulevardier. That cocktail swapped the gin for an American rye or bourbon, giving it warm and spicy notes as opposed to the crisp and herbaceous notes associated with the original. South by Southwest is another variation that features whisky made with the infamous Ardbeg 10. The Islay scotch adds a layer of rich peaty smokiness to the drink that is evened out with the addition of orange blossom water. The gin may be also swapped out with other clear spirits such as white rum (to lend a sweet minerally taste, be sure to use overproof rum), Absinthe (adds a layer of spice, with big notes of mint), and Mezcal (imparts a rich earthiness with some smoke), among others. 

Swapping out other elements of the drink is commonplace as well, and the Negroni Bianco takes it a step further, doing away with both the sweet vermouth and Campari, instead replacing them with a clear Italian aperitif and a blanc vermouth. The manner in which this affects the drink varies depending on the aperitif and vermouth in question, but the drink has a distinct pale yellow hue that is in contrast to its bright orange-red counterpart. 

As for modern day trends, bartenders are increasingly experimenting with using other amaros in place of Campari, a large part of which can be attributed to the rise of new wave artisanal amaros, particularly amaro rossos’ (red). Modern techniques such as infusion (leaving a flavorant in the bottle so that the base spirit takes on its characteristics) and fat washing (a flavorful fat is added to the base spirit, then skimmed off, and the beverage filtered) have produced some astonishing results. The Campari may be infused with coarsely ground coffee or cocoa nibs to enhance bitterness, and the gin with ghee or coconut oil to add fragrant notes. Bitters are an easy way to influence the drink's character. The options are truly endless with the Negroni, which is why the much beloved drink has seen thousands of variations and continues to stand the test of time.