Bittersweet symphony

The latest twist in the tale of the Negroni

Classic, White or Boulevardier­—a Negroni is a sexy, sophisticated drink. Alexa Mazzarello photo

For a drink so simple, the Negroni is one impressively complicated cocktail.

It contains only three ingredients—equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari—but those three ingredients comprise a world of flavours and aromas: bitter, sweet, citrus, floral, herbal, spicy, medicinal. It has a sexy backstory, except that it isn’t true.

Or maybe it is. No one is quite sure. It is one of the most classic of cocktails, but it has also inspired countless variations, one of which, the Americano, was actually the original drink upon which the Negroni was based and which in itself was based on a drink called the Milano-Torino, or perhaps it was the Torino-Milano.

Robyn Gray’s Inception cocktail is drawing international attention. Rosewood Hotel Georgia photo

Confused yet? Just wait until you meet the Inception.

“The idea of the Inception is a cocktail within a cocktail, a dream within a dream, a Negroni within a Negroni,” says the drink’s creator, Robyn Gray, head bartender at Prohibition at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia.

Inspired both by his love of Negronis and by a cocktail he’d once seen another bartender make inside an eggshell, Gray crafted a revolutionary new cocktail: an ice sphere filled with a traditional Negroni and placed into a glass filled with a White Negroni (the softer, rounder, more floral iteration). As the ice melts and cracks, the two drinks mingle together in an ever-changing symphony of flavours. “You get two Negronis in one,” Gray says. “It’s really quite interesting.”

People in London have literally come and stayed at the hotel Georgia so they could have my cocktail.

Already, the Inception is garnering attention from around the world. After it was written up on the British cocktail website Difford’s Guide, calls started coming in from as far away as Buenos Aires. “People in London have literally come and stayed at the Georgia so they could have my cocktail,” Gray says. “Are you kidding me?”

The Inception is just the latest twist in a story that may or may not have started in 1919 in the Bar Casoni in Florence, Italy. The way the story goes, a local man-about-town called Comte Camillo Negroni would swing by for a drink of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water. The drink was named for Milan and Turin, the hometowns of its two main ingredients, but was better known as an Americano, because of its popularity among visiting tourists. Negroni asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, if he couldn’t make it just a tad stronger. Scarselli replaced the soda with gin and the rest is history.

Except, of course, it’s not. According to Difford’s Guide, Florence’s Negroni family insists there has never been a Camillo Negroni in its thousand-year history. Instead, it was a Frenchman, also named Negroni, who invented the drink in the 1870s, in Africa. Still another story has it being invented in the United States, in 1895, when it was called, somewhat disappointingly, the Dundarado. And then, of course, there are the myriad variations such as the Boulevardier, where bourbon replaces the gin.

Regardless of its murky beginnings, the Negroni has become part of the pantheon of the world’s great cocktail classics, which includes the Manhattan, the Martini and the Margarita. It is decidedly a grownup drink, the drink you order when you want to show off how smart, how savvy, how sophisticated you are. And sexy, too.

“You have the botanical flavour of the gin, you have the sweet and aromatized wine, and then you have the bitter and orange of Campari,” Gray says. “It’s the perfect threesome.”

A BIT OF BOURDAIN: Anthony Bourdain made a pitcher of Negronis for his TV crew while in Italy a few years back. One bottle Campari. One bottle sweet vermouth. One bottle gin. “Those things hit you like a freight train after four or five,” he told Maxim magazine, recalling finding his cameraman passed out with his head in a freezer. “I reached over him to get some cheese.

HAVE IT YOUR WAY: For a White Negroni, replace the vermouth with Lillet Blanc and the Campari with French Suze bitters; for a Boulevardier, switch out the gin for bourbon; and for an Americano, lose the gin and spritz things up with soda water.

—by Joanne Sasvari

Make a classic Negroni.

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