All about the Negroni, anoble cocktail invented in Florence.
Around 1920, Florentine Count Camillo Negroni met his friends regularly in the heart of Florence at Casoni, a shop that sold perfume, tobacco, drinks, and snacks. Barman Fosco Scarselli mixed drinks there for a clientele of Tuscan lawyers, financiers, politicians, nobles, and English and American tourists. The rage then was for a cocktail called the Americano - equal parts of red vermouth and Campari, splashed with seltzer water and garnished with a twist of lemon. Still served today, the Americano had been a new take on a drink known as the Milano-Torino, a straightforward blend of Campari (from Milano) and Italian vermouth (from Torino).
Most people know vermouth, an aperitif made from wine that has been flavored with herbs, quinine, and sugar. Campari is a bitter aperitif invented by Gaspare Campari at the end of the 1800s. The true recipe remains a guarded secret, but it is known to be a maceration of alcohol and fruit (including bitter oranges), herbs, roots, sugar, and a distinctively bright red natural coloring.
On one of his visits to Casoni, Count Negroni asked the bartender to fortify his Americano with some gin (a reminder of sojourns in England) and to add half an orange slice as garnish. The Count was, according to Scarselli, "a grand drinker ... some days he consumed 40 cocktails but I never saw him drunk." When curious customers requested their Americanos in the style of Negroni, a cocktail was born. I have learned all of this from a new Italian book by Luca Picchi called Sulle Tracce del Conte: La vera storia del cocktail 'Negroni' (which translates: On the Count's Trail: The True Story of the 'Negroni' Cocktail).
The story continues: In 1933, a man named Giacosa bought Casoni. Fosco Scarselli left to tend bar at the Ugolino Golf Club, outside Florence. He and the Count remained friends for the rest of their lives. Their cocktail now appears all over the world, including Caffe Giacosa, in exactly the same place that Scarselli created it for Negroni.
I found a recipe in the Epicurious Drink File called a Negroni Cooler, which might properly be called a Negroni Classico, except that it calls for a spritz of club soda in place of the Count's seltzer. Today, most bar-handbook recipes for a Negroni omit the bubbly water entirely. That standard Negroni - a wallop of bitter (Campari), sweet (vermouth), and aromatic alcohol (gin), with the orange for comic relief - is the only cocktail I really like. It remains the perfect summer drink. The Drink File's Negroni recipe, however, inexplicably omits the traditional garnish of half an orange slice. Neglect it only if you wish to look like an Americano.
Caffe' Giacosa (cum Giacosa di Cavalli), via Tornabuoni 83/R, Florence; tel. 39-055-239-6262.
-May 12, 2000