The classic Negroni is very much like the Manhattan: it’s a variable and customisable cocktail, as long as the basic recipe (spirit-vermouth-Campari) is respected. One variation is here, from Milk & Honey‘s Mickey McIlroy: the Right Hand. Here, the gin is replaced with a dark rum, and the rum and bitter flavours are drawn together with a few dashes of chocolate bitters. The result is a lovely, rich & interesting drink, with plenty of overlapping flavours. A pal had provided me with some excellent home-made chocolate & Absinthe bitters which proved absolutely perfect. I may actually prefer this to a classic Negroni – the rum is more warming, but this wouldn’t be a great pre-dinner drink, probably too rich. But as something to sip with something salty, or after dinner, it’s a great idea.
50ml dark rum (I used Skipper here)
25ml Italian vermouth
Dashes of chocolate bitters
Stir over ice in your mixing glass, then fine strain into a highball glass with a single large ice cube. Garnish with orange zest, or a dried orange slice as I did here.
My sample of Asterley Bros’ London fernet, Britannica, is proving very versatile, so I have been looking at other ways of using it. Adding a fernet or amaro to a Boulevardier recipe to give it a more cutting edge is a great variation – such as the Palpable Apathy, created by David Little at the Barnacle bar in Seattle – so I decided to try something like that with my sample of Britannica. In a piece of perfect timing, a recipe from my favourite bar, Disrepute in Soho, popped up in my Instagram feed – a Bulleit Boulevardier, developed for them by Jean-Vital at Cocktail Circus. So with a salut! to the original recipe, I have replaced the Fernet Branca with Britannica, and changed the cherry wine to a cherry brandy, just to reduce the sweetness a touch. The end result is a Boulevardier with a kick – more of a Brixton swagger than Champs-Élysées stroll – so I have renamed this one the Londoner with a Bulleit, as its full-fronted bitterness seems to evoke some 60s gangster movie set in the East End. Perhaps you need to drink this one while wearing a trilby, as an additional garnish.
40ml Bulliet bourbon
10ml Britannica fernet
15ml Cinzano Rosso
10ml cherry brandy
Stir in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a slim strip of orange zest – mandarin, if you have it.
Naming cocktails is an odd thing: typically, the barman or establishment that invents a particular combination gets to name that drink (see the Ward 8 for one example). Many stories are known, some are the source of controversy & plenty are lost entirely. With a limited number of ingredients, especially in the classic cocktail era, it’s hardly surprising that some cocktails even come in different recipes bearing the same name: the Derby exists in a number of forms, all named after the famous American horse race.
So what does this have to do with the Negroni, and its many current expressions being offered in bars? The standard recipe, gin, vermouth & Campari is a great combination of strong, sweet and sour, making it a damn-near perfect pre-dinner drink, and its recent resurgence is not surprising. But the twist is that the Negroni itself is a variation – the standard history is that Count Negroni asked his favourite barman to strengthen the regular Americano cocktail by replacing the soda water with gin (most likely because he’d lived in London for a while and picked up a gin habit there), creating the famous mix. But, similar drinks exist, all bearing different names: the Old Pal replaces the gin with whisky, and the other bar classic, the Boulevardier has bourbon in the white spirit slot.
So why are modern Negroni variations not getting completely new names? My guess is that because of the popularity of the standard Negroni, bar staff are wanting to show the connection to the classic drink, whilst trying to do something original. Tequila for gin is a fairly straightforward change, and a basic silver or plata style tequila isn’t going to clash dramatically with the vermouth or Campari. As someone who isn’t completely sold on gin, except in a very dry Martini, the tequila change works very well. But I think the name ‘tequila Negroni’ is a little dull, so I have taken to renaming it the Jalisco Negroni, in honour of the area where tequila production is based. The drink, to my mind, has a slightly fresher taste than the gin version, and benefits from the lightness of the younger style of tequila.
20ml sweet vermouth
Stir the alcohols together in a mixing glass over ice, then strain into an Old Fashioned glass with a fresh single large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel or a stick of cinnamon if you want to be thoroughly exotic.
The Manhattan formula, so simple but so adaptable, gives rise to endless variation. Some of these are deliberate attempt to rearrange the basic mixture; others seem to have arisen from the simple fact that a combination of a spirit, vermouth & bitters is a mighty fine one and a solid foundation for a very good drink.
One of these variations is the Palmetto, recorded in the Savoy Cocktail book. This puts the drink in the period between the publication of the book and the repeal of Prohibition, making it one of the cocktail ‘classics’. Harry Craddock’s recipe combines rum, vermouth and bitters & is faithfully recreated in Robert Simonson’s excellent book, 3 Ingredient Cocktails; I used his recipe here. One of the key things to note is that bitters here are very important – both rum and the Italian vermouth are quite sweet, so the citrus kick of the bitters is necessary to tie them together, but add too much & they will overpower the drink.
I’m not enamoured with this drink; the equal mix of vermouth and rum just doesn’t seem to work together for me, even with a good shake of bitters; somehow it’s just all too sweet. But it is a complex drink and worth trying, even just once.
1 1/2 oz good, aged rum
1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
Dashes of orange bitters
Stir over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish really seems to be optional for this drink, but a good slice of orange zest wouldn’t go amiss; if you use a cocktail cherry, you would be adding to the sweetness even further.
Every barman has a corpse reviver recipe: the drink they slide across the bar to the jaded customer without a word, just the unspoken understanding of what the client needs right now, right then. The recipes date back to the mid-C19th, served to young bucks who had over-indulged the night before, and now revived (if you will) for a modern generation of hungover clients.
The #2 mix is allegedly more popular these days, but this #1 mix relies of a swift punch to the kidneys with darker alcohols: brandy (or cognac) and calvados, that wonderful French apple brandy. I have mixed together the standard alcohol kick with Tristran Stephenson’s #1.1 beta recipe, found in his excellent Curious Bartender book, that uses an English apple brandy.
The drink is one you should drink swiftly. ‘While it is still smiling at you’, as they say.
30ml brandy or cognac
30ml calvados (I used Somerset apple brandy here)
30ml Italian vermouth (I used Vermut)
Stir well over ice, then strain into a cold coupe. No garnish is required – you don’t want to delay serving this drink to a customer in distress.
And in a slight, but I think important variant, I dropped a few spots of clove bitters (my recipe) into the centre of the drink. They settle to the bottom, adding a sudden & unexpected dimension as you drain the glass, and one that certainly opens the eyes. Stephenson says ‘add them if you want to break the rules’. I do & so I did.
Another recipe that can be made with Old Tom or dry gin – again, I am using a lighter London style in Hendricks. The mystery of this drink is why the ‘and’ in the title; the answer is in the ingredients: gin *and* brandy *and* vermouth. This sounds like a drink invented by someone ho couldn’t quite work out what to drink, so just kept adding ingredients.
But in reality it is pretty well-balanced. The gin and brandy work well together; I can’t imagine a bourbon equivalent marrying so well, it really has to be brandy. Richard Godwin describes it as having a ‘Fred Astaire sort of sweep’. I can see what he means – it seems to waltz around the tongue, rather than march over your mouth. I slipped away from the recipe by using a lime twist, rather than lemon. Why? Because I wanted to see if it worked, and the subtle citrus note seemed to be more elegant, even if the colour didn’t really work. It’s your glass: you choose.
25ml Italian vermouth
10ml orange liqueur (I used Cointreau, Grand Marnier is more traditional)
Dash of Orange bitters.
Stir well over ice & strain into cold glass. Garnish with a zest twist (see above).
The dependable Manhattan has spawned many variations; the recipe is really simple, so it is very easy to substitute any of the ingredients to create something quite different: the Harvard is a variant where the rye or bourbon is replaced with cognac. Quite how a mix of French brandy with an Italian vermouth has come to represent on of America’s most blue-blooded, ivy-clad Universities is anyone’s guess, but my stab is a few alumni propping up a college bar one evening, deciding that they really needed a cocktail named after their alma mater*. The result is worthy, but not exactly groundshaking: cognac adds a fruitier dimension to the bourbon/rye original, which works well with the vermouth, but without the tension that the spikier spirits have. It’s a soothing drink, one to be lingered over on a cold evening, but I still prefer the original.
20ml. Carpana Antico vermouth
dashes of Angosturas bitter
Stir well over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a cherry.
* I am sure every college should have some sort of drink named after it; if my old Uni had a drink, then the UCL would most likely be a mix of tequila, whisky & Newcastle Brown Ale, garnished with a roll-up.