Saturday, June 11, 2016

Down for the Count

It’s that time of year you’ve all been waiting for again, marking down your calendars in impatient anticipation.  June 6 – 12, 2016 marks this year’s international Negroni week, a worldwide charitable event hosted at over 6,000 bars celebrating one of the most famous cocktails of all time.  Last year I wrote about the Negroni and its classic combination of three spirits in equal parts: gin, vermouth and Campari, which merge into a perfectly balanced, boozy and bitter “adult” libation.  I paired it with a puzzle box based on another concept of “three” – the Triskele box by Hideaki Kawashima of the Karakuri Creation Group.  This year we need to delve a bit deeper into the Negroni  lore.  Like many great classics, its origin is well established, debatable, ascribed to one man, possibly someone else, generally known, hotly contested, and in the end, probably false.  

The Three Cornered Deadlock by Hideaki Kawashima

The story(ies) go something like this.  Sometime around 1919, Count Camillo Luigi Manfredo Maria de Negroni asked for something stronger than his usual “Americano”, a vermouth and Campari sprtiz, at the Caffe Casoni in Florence, Italy.   He had developed a taste for gin during his adventures in the American “Wild West”.  The bartender swapped the spritz for gin and the Negroni was born.  Except that the current day descendants of the noble Negroni family insist this Count never existed.  They promote that the truth, in fact, is that their ancestor, Count Pascal Olivier de Negroni invented the drink while in Senegal, West Africa, in 1860.  But Count Camillo did exist, and records show he did indeed live in America for a time as suggested.  He was also born on May 25, just a few year before my own birth on that same day (give or take a century), so I’m fond of him.  But in the end, it’s hard to know who really invented the first version of any of our classics.  The Negroni doesn’t appear in print until well after many of its supposed variations – so which really came first?  At least we have two “counts” of who really made it famous. 

Three connected parts locked in a dance

I like continuing themes, so it’s fitting that this year I have another perfectly balanced, “three-part” puzzle box to pair with the Negroni, and it’s also by Hideaki Kawashima again.  Kawashima makes intricately designed puzzles which often have components that interplay with one another, so that one section becomes blocked while the other is opened.  The internal mechanics of his boxes are incredible and he has said of some of his creations that they may be more interesting on the inside than out.  His Triskele, which I discussed last year, is a marvel of poetry in motion and very hard to solve if you have never experienced its mechanism before.  This year I present his “Three Cornered Deadlock”, an unusual creation which merges three equal cubes together in a coordinated dance (like a Negroni! Sorry, that was obvious).  The box is beautifully crafted in magnolia, cherry, walnut and maple woods.  Unlike his “Duet” box (another fantastic creation composed of two joined cubes that we have discussed in the past), which requires a coordinated interplay between the two connected boxes in order for each to open (how romantic), the Deadlock doesn’t play well with others.  Each of the three conjoined boxes can open, but once you have committed to one, the others are “deadlocked”.  You have to retrace your steps to the beginning in order to open another.  In total it requires 37 moves to open all three compartments in sequence.

The Frozen Negroni by Jeff Morgenthaler

While there are plenty of delicious Negroni variations to try, which are often created by simply substituting one or more of the basic ingredients while keeping the proportions equal, I’m sticking to a classic version this year – gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.  Although not quite – there is a slight twist to this one, which makes it the perfect summer time Negroni and one of the most delicious versions I have tried.  Invented by Jeff Morgenthaler, a cocktail virtuoso, author and bar manager of Portland’s James Beard nominated Clyde Common, the “Frozen Negroni”, like so many of his creations, takes something good and makes it even better.  Like any Negroni, with a few basic ingredients and simple proportions, this one is super easy to make so you don’t have any excuse not to try it yourself.  And it’s still Negroni week, so you’re practically obligated.  You can thank me later.  Good things come in threes – Cheers, Cheers, Cheers!!!

Good things come in threes ...

Jeff Morgenthaler’s Frozen Negroni:
1 oz Campari
1 oz gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz simple syrup
2 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
6 oz crushed ice
Blend until smooth and pour into a favorite glass. Garnish with orange slices.

For more information about Hideaki Kawashima:

For a well researched article about the origin of the Negroni:

For the official International Negroni Week page:

For last year’s Negroni Week Boxes and Booze, please see:

For Hideaki Kawashima’s Duet box please see:

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