If you see the word “Negrone” spelled with an “e” at the end, featured on a cocktail list you will immediately know two things: 1) the person who put that list together isn’t Italian (because Negrone is not the plural of Negroni). And 2) the drinks are probably going to be fantastic.
Named for an Italian count and featuring two Italian products, the Negroni was just an even more American version of the so-called Americano Cocktail. That cocktail had incorporated the Italian “bitters,” Campari, and red “Italian” sweet vermouth (and was often topped with soda). The Americano was invented by Caspare Campari himself in the 1860’s at his bar in Milan years before his product Campari was even available in the United States (introduced for export in 1905). The Negroni came along in the 1920’s and was essentially the same cocktail but now even more fortified with the addition of gin, which was much higher in proof and very American pleasing (gin, even though illegal at the time was the preeminent American liquor then). And for nearly 100 years the Negroni stayed virtually the same, equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth.
Things have now changed. Maybe it’s the tail wagging the dog, but now American mixologists are creating all kinds of “negroni’s” incorporating different vermouths, different amaro’s and even different liquors. The combination of lower proof fortified wine (vermouth), which by law must exceed 15% alcohol but be wine based, and much higher proof “bitters” or “amaro’s” which run the gamut from about 30 proof all the way up to 90 proof, is the backbone of many famous cocktails: the Manhattan, the Martinez among them. Amaro means “bitter” in Italian, but amaro’s are different from cocktail bitters in that cocktail bitters are considered “non-potable “on their own (by law) and don’t need a liquor license to create, or to sell. Whereas amaro’s are meant to be drunk on their own and are regulated as alcohol by state and federal law. Confusing huh?
What is not confusing, is that the three part harmony of liquor, bitters, and vermouth is almost always pleasing regardless of which products one uses, as long as the proportions are correct. With that thought in mind we offer four different “negrone” including a non-alcoholic version, all localized, of course, for your consumption. Saluto!
¾ ounce Vya Sweet Vermouth (co-founded by former Marinite Michael Dellar)
¾ ounce Gran Classico Bitter (Tempus Fugit Spirits, Petaluma)
¾ ounce Alamere London Dry Gin*
1 blood orange wheel
1 star anise
Combine all three liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into an ice filled serving glass and garnish with blood orange and star anise
* Alamere Spirits was founded by Chef Olivier Souvestre (of L’Appart in San Anselmo, and Le Garage and F3 in Sausalito) and his wife Susannah, and began production earlier this year making a wheat vodka, a citrus gin, and this London Dry.
¾ ounce Griffo Distillery gin (Petaluma)
½ ounce Cocchi Americano (Italy)
1ounce Lo-Fi Sweet Vermouth *
1 Meyer lemon wheel
Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and float Meyer lemon wheel on top.
*Made in Napa by Gallo, this high end and deliciously fresh sweet vermouth has no coloring added rendering an almost perfectly clear take on sweet vermouth.
Bay Area Boulevardier
1 ounce Blackened whiskey Whiskey (pioneered by Marin’s own Metallica)
¾ ounce Mommenpop orange vermouth (Napa)
½ ounce Young & Yonder Spirits California Amaro*
1 Bada Bing “all natural” stemmed cocktail cherry
Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with the cherry.
*At 60 proof Young and Yonder’s amaro is a little lighter on the palate than many of the heavier Italian versions. Which makes it both easier to mix with other ingredients, and easier to drink on its own. It’s the North Bay alternative to Aperol (also made by Campari).
2 ounces The Free Spirits Company non-alcoholic “Spirit of Gin” *
¾ ounce Gifford Sirop Aperitif
¾ ounce Fever Tree “Indian” tonic water**
1 lime zest
Combine first two ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into an ice filled serving glass. Top with tonic and stir again. Garnish with lime zest.
*Founded by Tiburon’s Milan Martin, Free Spirits makes and markets three non-alcoholic alternatives: The Spirit of Gin, The Spirit of Tequila and The Spirit of Bourbon. All get their kick from capsicum and all are deliciously alcohol free.
**There are no delicious non-alcoholic vermouths as of yet. Tonic water uses some of the same bittering agents and is a delicious non-alcoholic alternative.