I have just had my world turned upside down. It turns out that neat, cool story I have been telling people for years regarding the invention of the Negroni cocktail has turned out to be complete bollocks.
So the original story that has been going around for years is that this classic Italian cocktail was invented in the early 1920s in Florence. The tale goes that the then Count Negroni went into his favourite bar at the end of a particularly bad day. Everyone was sitting about drinking the endlessly popular Campari and soda mixed with Turin vermouth, served over ice and garnished with lemon (then termed a ‘Milano-Torino,’ and now called an ‘Americano’). The Count said that the rigours of the day demanded something a little stronger, so the barman swapped out the soda for gin, and put a slice of orange in it so he could tell which one belonged to the Count.
Neat story, right? Well it gets even more specific. The Count is tagged as Count Camillo Negroni, the barman as Fosco Scarselli , and the establishment as Caffè Giacosa.
This is where the whole tale falls apart. Caffè Giacosa went by another name in the 1920s, and (this is the bitch) the genealogy records of the Negroni family, which were assembled in painstaking detail to enable the title to be lodged with the Knights of Malta, show that there was never a Camillo Negroni.
Fairly recent information has suggested that Pascal Oliver Compte de Negroni, a Frenchman from Corsica, invented the Negroni while posted in Saint Louis, Senegal between 1855 and 1865, which would mean that Italy’s darling cocktail was invented in Africa by a Frenchman. However, food historians, distillery owners, and the Negroni family themselves have waded into an ongoing war fought on the battlefield of Wikipedia, casting doubt on both and all other theories.
The only things we can be certain of is that the Negroni was first popular in Florence in the 1920s, and that the drink was a favourite of Orson Welles, who said of it in 1947:
“The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
- 50ml Campari
- 50ml red vermouth (e.g. Martini Rosso; the best I have found is Cocci)
- 50ml gin (a standard juniper gin rather than a cucumber one)
- Slice of orange
Fill an tumbler with ice.
Pour in all the ingredients and mix with a cocktail spoon. Some barmen used to making a lot of these will fit pourers to the bottles and up end all three in one go in one hand, simultaneously measuring and mixing the drink while smiling at you smugly – show offs.
Garnish with the orange slice.
Negronis are an acquired taste for some. Campari is quite bitter, and this puts some people off. Aperol can be used instead of Campari for a less bitter drink with less booze in it. I suggest sticking with the original as it grows on you, it very easy to make, and it also looks cool – unless you are in Cargo Bar in Basel where they serve it in a martini glass while your buddies are chugging beers from steins. Others, such as my friend Andrew and his wife who I introduced to it while skiing with them in Italy, take to it straight away, and enjoy getting hammered on it while cooking Sunday lunch. Personally, I love them.