June 1-7 is international Negroni week, a worldwide charitable event sponsored by Imbibe magazine and Campari. The Negroni is one of the all time great classic cocktails, and what better time to celebrate it than during its new official holiday. If you’re not familiar with the Negroni, here is a bit of cocktail lore to wet your whistle. The Negroni is thought to have originated about 100 years ago in Florence, Italy, where one of the most popular drinks of the day then was and now remains the “Americano”, a combination of Campari and sweet vermouth with a spritz of seltzer. Campari is a bitter aperitif (designed to aid in the priming of the digestive track before the meal, as opposed to the bitter digestive for after the meal) famous for its bright red color, which was originally produced with carmine dye obtained from crushed cochineal insect shells. Good stuff. The flavor is derived from herbs, floral elements and fruits fermented with alcohol, but of course the actual components are a highly guarded secret of the “I’d have to kill you” variety. Vermouth is similarly complex but based with wine rather than pure alcohol. The wines are fortified with herbs, flowers and plants indigenous to the region where they are produced. In Italy, vermouth or “bitters” and a “spritz” of seltzer are as common as a gin and tonic here in the US. The Americano (Campari and vermouth spritz) is a nice enough drink on its own, of course, but on that fateful day in 1919, Count Negroni was looking for a little more “oomph” and asked the bartender to kick it up a notch. The resultant swapping of seltzer for gin, along with Campari and vermouth, launched a classic which has stood the test of time. The drink has an international week in its honor, need I say more? The Negroni is a “boozy” drink, and has a perfect balance between the flavors. It’s also incredibly easy to make (not a bad strategy) with equal 1:1:1 proportions of each of its 3 core ingredient, stir over ice, pour and enjoy. It’s also incredibly easy to experiment with, by simply substituting one or another of the ingredients to create endless varieties.
|The Triskele Box|
I’ve paired the Negroni with a beautiful puzzle box which also has a central theme based on 3 components, the “Triskele” by Hideaki Kawashima of the Karakuri Creation Group. A triskele is an ancient Celtic symbol with three interlocking spirals. The box has lovely raised panels on each face, which alternate directions in a spiral fashion, and overlap the corresponding edges of each side thereby locking the panels in place. Each corner is also crafted in an overlapping spiral pattern, which additionally has the effect of locking each panel firmly in place. There is absolutely no wiggle room on this box. Nothing at all moves and all the usual attempts at opening it fail miserably. The mechanism for opening the box is a thing of beauty, and if you have never experienced it before, it is truly startling and counterintuitive. Its mind boggling to imagine how this was crafted out of wood, and makes me realize I better stick to making cocktails.
|The Slow Fade Cocktail|
Here is a delicious Negroni variation to celebrate Negroni week and the Triskele box, the “Slow Fade”, created by Chicago bartenders Henry Prendergast and Robby Haynes of Analogue. Keeping the 3 equal components of the classic, it substitutes the gin for mezcal to provide a wonderful smokiness which I particularly love. If that’s not your thing you can try a blanco tequila instead but you’ll be missing out. It also substitutes the sweet vermouth for a blanco vermouth to impart a lighter tone, making this drink more of a “white negroni” variant. Add a bit of elderflower liqueur, which I think actually gets a bit lost in this drink, and a dash of bitters, and you have the slow fade. Contemplate that as I “spiral” this post into its own slow fade.
|Good things come in 3's|
Check out Negroni week, find a local participating bar, and go try one:
Recipe for the Slow Fade:
For more on Hideaki Kawashima: