According to the Speakeasy book from the NY bar, Employees Only, sooner or later, every barman flirts with the Negroni. It is an absolute classic cocktail – a perfect balance of sweet and sour, strong and fresh, dry and citrus. However, I have no great love of Campari (too bitter & sweet for me) , so I have made my drink with the fruitier, more laid-back Florentine bitter, Aperol. The result, in my mind, is a less aggressive drink, which can be served straight up. And it gives the lie to the idea that gin doesn’t play well with other flavours due to the attack of the juniper; the combination here of citrus, juniper and herbs creates a beautifully balanced mixture. Over ice, in a rocks glass, this would make a perfect summer drink. The Speakeasy recipe doesn’t mention bitters, but following the generally good advice that every cocktail recipe needs a splash of something, I added a few drops of my grapefruit bitters. And if you don’t like gin? Substitute bourbon or rye for the gin, and you have another classic: the Boulevardier. Or replace the gin with prosecco or asti spumante, and you have the messed-up drink, Negroni sbagliato. Proportions: 1 1/4oz. of Aperol 1 1/4oz. of dry gin (I used Gordon’s) 1 1/4oz. of sweet vermouth (I used Carpana Antico) Dashes of grapefruit bitters Glass: Large Martini glass Stir the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Serve in Martini glass, garnished with an orange wheel
This is a deliberate twist on Tony Conigliaro’s original Death in Venice cocktail, as I am not as keen on the Campari used in that version. I much prefer the lighter, orange notes of Aperol, the drink that you will find consumed much more readily for an aperitivo around Florence & Tuscany. The recipe also uses the grapefruit bitters I made back in early December.
The final drink has a good bitter bite, but some really refreshing citrus flavours, too. It’s important (I think) to get a really good, dry prosecco for this – if the wine is too sweet, the grapefruit bitters will jar, and the final drink won’t be nearly as refreshing.
1 measure of Aperol
Dashes of grapefruit bitters
Glass: Champagne bowl
Pour measure of Aperol into chilled glass & add dashes of bitters; top up with prosecco. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
I have now bottled the latest batch of grapefruit bitters (named ‘Bg’). The use of the Italian strong alcohol has given the bitters a real kick, but the citrus of the grapefruit really shines through. The bitters are excellent in the Death in Florence cocktail, a variation I made on the original Death in Venice , invented by Tony Conigliaro. I changed the recipe to use Aperol, as I prefer the lighter, more orange flavour of this drink to the robust Campari of the original.
This flavour now completes the trio of bitters I have made: a ‘house’ bitter, made with sour cherries; a clove bitter with plenty of spices & the grapefruit bitters, with a strong citrus, sage & lavender flavours.
I was looking to make another batch of bitters, this time using my 95% alcohol, which I found in an Italian supermarket during the summer. Inspiration came when I discovered a fantastic recipe from Tony Conigliaro for the Death in Venice cocktail – a combination of Campari, prosecco, and a hit of grapefruit bitters; this is a cocktail that features at both 69 Colebrook Row & the Grain Store, so it comes highly recommended.
As this seemed like the perfect Christmas drink, and indeed was featured in an article about Christmas drinks, I went off to find a suitable recipe for this variety of bitters.
I soon found one on the Serious Eats website, written by Marcia Simmons: the mix of grapefruit, juniper, lavender, coriander & a battering agent, seemed to have the right sort of flavour profile to make this cocktail really sing, so I have been making a version at home. Marcia used 100˚ proof vodka, rather than over-proof alcohol, as she described trying to get a mellower flavour with her bitters. I have opted for the Italian 95% alcohol, as I would like my bitters to have little more attack. I will describe the results in two or three weeks.