Negroni. Classic Italian cocktail, made for the mediterranean life.
Negroni. Everything you need to know about a bar in a single glass.
It was 2016. I was lucky enough to be sitting at a “cool small bar” in Sydney. My sister had invited me out after a long work event. I couldn’t have been happier. I had no idea what to order. After all, most of my drinking experience at this point had been in the blue mountains, or florida. Both not places known for their classy cocktails. I gave my sis complete power in choosing our drinks. I trusted her. I didn’t know that her choice would change my life forever.
“Two negronis please”
The drinks arrived and I instantly felt like an adult. In a good way. Before even tasting the thing, I sat up a little more straight, I felt a little more wise and I had a touch more optimism. There was just something in the air that shifted. Like when Mary Poppins coming into town. I could feel it. The glass was short, the ice was nice and chunky and the orange rind had been perfectly smoothed around the edge of the glass. My first negroni was my best negroni. Naturally.
For the record, I don’t remember what my first negroni tasted like. I can’t recall if it were more gin, or more campari heavy. These are now questions that I ask of every negroni I enjoy . My first negroni didn’t need to taste great, it just made me feel alive. That was enough. That was everything.
The next few bars I visited had equally as elaborate and trendy menus as the first. It might have been fear of ordering something inappropriate, or it might have been because I really wanted to show my friends something new, for whatever reason, I felt the need to order a negroni. The more and more I went out, the more and more different negronis I tasted. Each time I was surprised by how different they all were. You would think that three simple ingredients and an orange rind would make the same final product? So wrong. It was, and still is, these different tastes made me think. What was it about the negroni that made it so delicious? Why did I keep ordering them even when I knew more about the world of cocktails? Why is the negroni my perfect cocktail?
All I can come up with is that the perfection is in the simplicity. That’s why I love it.
You see, a negroni is a $20-$23 litmus test for the quality of a bar. When I say ‘quality’ I mean the character of the bar, not whether or not it’s a fancy place or the local pub. Sounds silly, but a negroni from the pub during a casual Sunday session can taste just as good as one from the lush bar inside the Opera House. So, when I say ‘litmus test’, I mean that you can learn so much from how they approach this beautiful classic beverage. Get it right? That’s a winner. Pretty much everything else on the menu should be fantastic too (unless you are in a hipster bar in Paris that serves a killer negroni, but also experimental warm tomato cocktails as the house specialty – no thanks). Get it wrong? Don’t give them another dollar. That is not your place, it’s highway robbery and probably poisonous. Get out, now.
Here is what a good negroni needs. As I see it anyway. Oh yes, friendly reminder that I am no expert and cannot make a decent negroni. I have just tasted enough to know what I like and what I don’t. You get my point. If the bar is missing any one of these, then you should probably order a wine or beer. A negroni ain’t worth the investment without:
- Perfect glassware
- It’s all about matching the setting. Chunky glasses work well in pubs, old school crystal works well in small bars and thin rimmed tumblers are a nice neighbourhood bar option.
- Chunky ice – controversial!
- For me, the negroni gets a massive boost from a massive ice cube. Those tiny little guys just melt too fast and dilute things, throwing off the balance. I’ll take a slightly wet nose from the big ice cube bumping my face over a bland, watered down negroni any day!
- Orange rind
- Has the drink been prepared with care and consideration? If so, then it will include the finesse of a thin orange rind. If a bartender can pull this off , they are some kind of magician.
- Quality booze
- As with anything, you only get out what you put in. The difference between mass produced and craft gin is HUGE. In saying that, I don’t discriminate ha.
When wrapped up in one little negroni bundle, these ingredients set the mood for the bar. The bartender’s choices will be governed by the bar’s identity. Is it a new trendy bar, is it a local institution? Both might be able to produce fine negronis, both might be able to fuck it up royally. No matter the establishment, it all comes down to the bartender knowing what they are doing and committing to their style. Do they love their work, or have they become fed up with the number of Tinder dates tonight? You’ll be able to know from their negroni. Trust me.
Where does this bring me? In 2020, I still insist on looking at the menu everywhere I go. You never know, there might be a day when I feel like ordering something else. Never say never. But for now, my interest in negronis has grown into a little personal joke. I have shaped a sort of identity as the negroni girl. Why the heck not lean in? When there is a negroni on the way and you have decided to share in that moment with me, I consider that pretty magical. Don’t worry, I won’t make you taste it. Feel free to order as you like. Although, the way to my heart is via one of three things. Sharing a negroni together is one ha. So, when we are out the next time and I am not drinking wine, you know what to order me. One negroni please xx