Sunday 5 July 2015

Some Negroni variants

A Mr President cocktail
I like a Negroni (equal parts gin, red vermouth and Campari), and I seem to have this in common with much of the world, as it is on trend these days. (Which is interesting when you consider that it is quite bitter—perhaps we are just getting more sophisticated in our cocktail palates, or perhaps it is the appeal of the vintage/heritage aspect.)

I was therefore intrigued when I later encountered the Boulevardier, which is effectively a Negroni with the gin replaced by bourbon or rye whiskey. It was created by Harry MacElhone, of Harry’s Bar in Paris, for Erskine Gwynne, socialite, nephew of Alfred Vanderbilt and editor of the Boulevardier magazine. It appears in Harry’s book Barflies and Cocktails, published in 1927, where it is given as equal parts bourbon, Campari and red vermouth. (Harry’s earlier ABC of Mixing Cocktails has an Old Pal cocktail that is equal parts Canadian—i.e. rye—whiskey, Campari and dry vermouth, which is a pretty dry drink. Oddly, a cocktail with the same name appears in the 1927 book made with red vermouth.) You often now find the Boulevardier with the whiskey elevated to 1½ parts, though certainly with Redemption Rye or Rittenhouse 100 Proof equal parts is easily enough. I would certainly put this cocktail up there with the Negroni; if you like Campari you should try it, as it is essentially a Manhattan with added Campari. Even with milder Maker’s Mark bourbon I think equal parts works fine, though ramping the bourbon to 1½ is still interesting.

Count Camillo Negroni, alleged inventor of the cocktail of
the same name. However, the contemporary Negroni family
insist that their ancestor Count Pascal Olivier Negroni is the
real creator. See here for the low-down on the spat 
All of which got me wondering what would happen if you tried using other spirits in place of the Negroni’s gin.* What about rum? In Havana’s Prohibition-era glory days as a watering hole many extant cocktails seemed to spawn an equivalent that used rum instead of the original base spirit—the Sloppy Joe’s Cocktails Manual has three “President” cocktails, all essentially a Dry Martini made with rum instead of gin, with a few other bits and pieces thrown in. Sure enough such a thing as a rum Negroni already exists: the Kingston Negroni uses pot still Jamaican rum, while the Mr President uses white Cuban rum (though the proportions are different here: 1¼ shots rum, ¾ shot red vermouth, ½ shot Campari). I’m not entirely convinced about either of these: the white rum is easily smothered by the other ingredients, contributing only a little sugar character; although clean, I find it a bit too sweet. In the dark rum version (I used Myers’s) the rum certainly makes its presence felt, though I suspect that I am ultimately not really a fan of this sort of Jamaican rum with its dry, dusty, woody rasp, and it is debatable here whether this quality compliments the rooty bitterness of the Campari or quarrels with it. I think on balance that this is a successful combo, in that you can certainly taste all the ingredients in the mix, although they seem to be circling each other warily. Compared to the Boulevardier, however, it is definitely less inspired.

A Milano is simply a Negroni made with vodka instead of gin, or an Americano (originally known as a Milano-Torino) made with vodka instead of soda. Ultimately it lacks the complexity of the Negroni or the Boulevardier, as you can’t taste the vodka, even if you bump up the proportions. It is also known as a Negroski. This cocktail need detain us no further.

A Rosita cocktail
Inevitably, where one whisky goes another will follow, and the Scotch Negroni uses blended Scotch instead. I used Famous Grouse and, although I am not generally a fan of Scotch-based cocktails, this one undoubtedly works. The whisky balances against the orangey fruit notes in much the same way as it does in a Blood and Sand (Scotch, orange juice, red vermouth and cherry brandy) and seems to add a chocolatey warmth.

Replacing the gin with Cognac (I tried Courvoisier Exclusif) is surprisingly successful, and quite different from the other variants. The fruitiness rises up, suggesting apples and prunes, and it balances in a very satisfying and complex way, though the overall effect is more a warming autumn drink (I imagine—I’m writing this during a heatwave here in the UK). I also tried it with Calvados and it works too, in the same fruity way, though it lacks the complex spread of flavours that the Cognac offers.

Finally we come to the Rosita, made using reposado tequila (I used Tierra Noble**). Simply replacing the gin with tequila at equal parts, the tequila sits squarely in the mix; the recipe I found gives 1½ parts tequila and although this still works I’m not sure it’s necessary. (The recipe, from Gaz Regan's Bartender's Bible, actually has the vermouth as an even blend of red and dry white; this gives a subtle and quite dry result, though I think I prefer it with just red vermouth.) It’s a fascinating combination, with the petrolly, smokey, herbaceous agave flavours entwining with the bitter, orange notes of the Campari. It works in a similar fashion to the Scotch version, with smoke being present in each case and each a relatively subtle blend compared to the minty, sawmill punch of the rye whiskey version.

Out of all of these, for me the Rosita takes first prize—it’s not just “interesting” but is a cocktail I will definitely come back to—thought the Boulvardier and the Cognac Negroni are definitely worth trying too.

* Of course there is much more you can do to a Negroni than just vary the base spirit. In fact Gaz Regan has written an entire book about it… 

** I was given a couple of samples at a trade show, but I don’t think they ever did sort out distribution in the UK. Which is a shame as it’s a great product.

1 comment:

  1. I should point out that Negronis are usually served on the rocks, but for these experiments I served them without ice, to try and keep the dilution consistent.