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.
This seems very apt, given our PM, David Cameron’s recent entanglements with questions of off-shore funds and inheritance. The drink itself is a variation on the Bronx cocktail – a solid mixture of gin, vermouth & fresh orange juice – with the addition of some dashes of Angostura bitters. How it got its name is open to question – some suggest the addition of bitters represents the attitude to taxation. My own take is that, like taxation, this mixture: gin, vermouth, some citrus & bitters is fairly universal. Either way, this is a very drinkable cocktail – it’s very refreshing, like the Ward 8 I tried last week, not heavy and the sort of cocktail you could imagine having more than one of.
40ml gin (I used solid, dependable Gordon’s)
20ml Italian vermouth (Carpano Antico)
20ml French vermouth (Lillet)
10ml fresh orange juice
Dashes of Angostura bitters
Shake well over plenty of ice, then strain well into a Martini glass. Twist orange zest over the surface to express the oils onto the drink and serve.
I have been enjoying following a chain of whisky-based drinks, and discovered this one in Richard Godwin’s peerless book, The Spirits. He features this in his The Stirred chapter, listing it as:
A dry aperitif that leaves you plenty to ponder
That sums this drink up really well. I have used some pretty strong-willed vermouths here: Carpano for the Italian, and Lillet for the French. Neither is trampled on by the whisky. The Peychaud’s bitters add a spicy, absinthe-type note which cuts through the other flavours, leaving you plenty, as Richard Godwin says, to ponder. A really good aperitif drink, or like here, a late night cocktail just to enjoy by itself.
25ml Scotch whisky (Whyte & Mackay here)
25ml French vermouth (Lillet here)
25ml Italian vermouth (Carpano ‘Antica Formula’ here)
Dash of Peychaud’s bitters
Stir over ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange zest, twisted over the surface to release the oils.