Americano, Negroni, Sbagliato!

February 8, 2013

Negroni2This post is mostly about the Negroni, but I’m going to start with an Italian lesson.

1. americano (n)

An Americano is a drink made with bitters (Campari), vermouth and soda. According to most sources it got its name around about the 1890s because of all the American tourists drinking it. I call bullshit. Were there loads of American tourists in Italy in the 1890s? Did they then choose to drink strange bitter European liqueurs? I think the more likely explanation is that the name came from ‘ameri’ the word for ‘bitter’. I have no evidence to back this up.

2. Negroni (n)

The name of an Italian Count who wanted to strengthen his Americano by subbing gin for soda. It worked, and the story seems a little more legit, although there are at least two Italian Counts vying for the credit.

3. sbagliato (adj)

Mistaken, as in, “I mistakenly poured champagne into your Negroni, instead of gin, by mistake. (Mama Mia!)”. You mistakenly what? No I don’t believe it. The Beefeater and the Asti Spumante look nothing alike. The bubbles weren’t a giveaway? Now, I read that the drink usually called ‘Negroni Sbagliato’ is simply called ‘Sbagliato’ in Italy. Back in the day, cheap (or not-so-cheap) dry sparkling wine was often used as a luxury version of soda water. So the Sbagliato is really just a luxury Americano, but maybe its invention really was a happy mistake.

Now that we’ve learnt the lexicology, let’s get on to the boozeology.

The Americano was actually originally called the Milan-Turino. It was invented by Gaspare Campari, who was a master drinks-maker by the age of 14, invented the most famous bitters in the world and founded the company that was to become the sixth-largest multinational spirits producer. Quite a guy! He was from Turin, but moved to Milan and opened his Caffe Campari there, naming his signature drink after his two home cities, which were also home to the two ingredients, his own Campari, made in Milan, and Cinzanno Vermouth, made in Turin.

americanoAmericano

1 1/2 oz Campari

1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth

soda water

orange or lemon slice

Build over ice in an Old_Fashioned glass, top with a squirt of soda and garnish with orange or lemon slice. Alternatively, build in a highball glass of ice and add about 2 oz of soda.

Lemon is the traditional garnish and orange was used in the Negroni to distinguish it, but personally I think that the orange just works better with the Campari.

The Americano is a nice enough drink, but the improvements are better.

As mentioned, if you use sparkling wine instead of soda water, you get a Sbagliato. This drink was invented (mistakenly or not) by bartender Mirko Stochetto, at the Bar Basso in Milan during the 1960s.

sbagliatoSbagliato

1 1/2 oz Campari

1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth

dry sparkling wine

orange slice

Make in the same way as an Americano, in an Old-Fashioned glass, although, for fun, I like to put it in a Champagne glass.

For authenticity, the sparkling wine should really be Italian. It seems that the original was probably Asti Spumante, but it’s trendier to use Prosecco, these days. There’s nothing wrong with using cheap Champagne, Cava or something else, though. I’ve tried all three, and like this drink quite a lot. It’s light, fun and easy to drink.

That finally brings us to the Negroni – the strengthened (and I think much improved) version of the Americano.

The most probable story of the invention of the Negroni was that the Italian playboy Count Camillo Negroni (when returning to Italy after having been a cattle rancher in the US for a while when he fled home due to the fathering an illegitimate child), drinking Americanos at the Cafe Casoni in 1919, decided to strengthen them with a bit of gin. A classic was born.

Negroni1Negroni

1 oz gin

1 oz Campari

1 oz sweet vermouth

orange slice or zest

Combine in an Old-Fashioned glass of ice and stir, or stir in a mixing glass of ice and strain into a coupe or Martini glass. Garnish with orange slice, wheel, wedge or zest.

That’s the drink, in all its simplicity. Now let’s get on to some choices and variations:

The simplest choice is if you want it on the rocks or up. Apparently in Italy it is always served in an Old-Fashioned glass with ice, but in recent years, cocktail fans have been straining it into a cocktail glass. I prefer the latter approach. It seems to make a nicer drink to me, and can also be a beautiful clear red which just makes it more appealing.

A few drops of Angostura or orange bitters is another common choice, although it’s not really necessary, given that Campari is, itself, a form of bitters. That said, I do like a couple of drops of orange bitters in my Negroni, especially if I’m using Aperol instead of Campari and using lighter citrusy gin.

Which brings me to the gin. I think the best choices are either a good traditional London dry like Tanqueray (one of my top choices) or a milder gin with good hints of citrus, such as Plymouth Gin. I wouldn’t recommend more herbal gins like Bombay Sapphire or the Botanist, really.

One trend is to increase the amount of gin. Personally, I think this is a mistake. I don’t really consider the Negroni a ‘gin drink’. With the equal parts formula, the three ingredients come together to create a completely new third flavour which is neither gin, Campari nor vermouth – the Negroni flavour. I think you lose this if you up the ratio of gin. You have a new gin drink, which is not a Negroni, nor is it as good.

Another, much better, trend is to use the Negroni template – gin, bitters, vermouth-like sweetener – to create similar drinks. There are quite a lot of these, but many require Amari (Italian potable bitters) that I just can’t get. Neither can I get any kind of sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica, and Punt-e-Mes are popular ones) other than Martini and Rossi. Here are a few that I have tried:

unusualThe Unusual Negroni

1 oz gin

1 oz Aperol

1 oz Lillet Blanc

orange twist

Stir ingredients with ice (or ‘throw’) and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.

This drink was created by bartender Charlotte Voisey for Hendrick’s Gin, and it’s a good gin for the drink. A lighter gin is called for, and one with good citrus flavours, so I’ve also found that Plymouth works well in this drink. Aperol is a lighter, more orangey, sweeter version of Campari (read to the end for availability in Taiwan), and can work well to introduce those wary of Campari to Negronis. The Aperol, being sweeter, is balanced by Lillet Blanc, being less sweet than Italian vermouth. Lillet is an aperitif wine with a similar profile to vermouth, but again, like all ingredients in this drink, it’s lighter and brighter. I like to add just two drops of Angostura Orange Bitters, as well.

Voisey ‘throws’ this drink to create some aeration, but I haven’t actually tried that myself.

The Unusual is my favourite Negroni, and a great bet if you want to win someone over to the drink. In my experience, no one likes their first Negroni, so see if you can make this their (or your own) second.

But sometimes you don’t want light:

cyn-cin (2)Cyn-Cin

1 oz gin

1 oz Cynar

1 oz sweet vermouth

1 dash bitters

2 wedges orange

Shake liquid ingredients and juice of one of the wedges with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the other wedge.

Jason Wilson attributes this variation to bartender Chris Cunningham, and writes of it, and other variations, in his book ‘Boozehound’, and in a Washington Post column.

Cynar (sadly unavailable in Taiwan) is the fantastic artichoke liqueur that I’ve written about before. It makes this Negroni rich and herbaceous. Another winner.

hankypankyHanky Panky

1 1/2 oz gin

1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes Fernet Branca

orange twist

Stir well with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Ted Haigh unearthed this cocktail, created by Ada Coleman at the Savoy Cocktail, home of one of the most influential cocktail books ever. He stresses the importance of actually expressing the essential oils in the orange before garnishing. He also says that the drink languishes because of its unfortunate name. I love the name! Apparently, upon tasting it, a certain Sir Charles Hawtrey declared “By Jove! That is the real Hanky Panky!”

I agree with Charles. This might be a bit clichéd for cocktail geeks, but Fernet Branca (alas, also not to be had in Taiwan) is one of my very favourite drops. I use a teaspoon in this drink. The proportions are different from a standard Negroni, but the Fernet is stronger, and a lot more bitter than Campari, so it still has a definite Negroni-ness. It’s great.

Deconstructed Negroni

Another good one, but I’m going to cover that in my next post.

luciengaudinThe Lucien Gaudin Cocktail

1 oz gin

1/2 oz Cointreau

1/2 oz Campari

1/2 oz dry vermouth

orange twist

Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist.

Another drink from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, named after a famous French fencer from the 20′s. It makes sense as a Negroni with the added orangey flavours of Cointreau, but I wasn’t too thrilled with it. I think it needs a bit of Orange Bitters, and would quite likely also work better with Aperol instead of Campari.

BoulevardierThe Boulevardier

1 1/2 oz Bourbon

1 oz Campari

1 oz sweet vermouth

orange twist or cherry

Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist or cherry.

I’ve left this to last for the obvious reason that it’s not a Negroni at all, being made out of Bourbon rather than gin. No matter, it’s a wonderful drink that stands up to both the Negroni and its other relative the Manhattan in quality. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Conclusions

The Negroni is a marvellous drink, not only of itself, but in the way it can be easily adapted. I’ve only listed a few of the variations, being, as I am, constrained by my lack of alternatives for the Campari and the Vermouth, but there are countless variations possible. Try one.

Note: I have found Aperol in only one place in Taiwan, a small distributor called Fontanbev. Their website is a horrible Flash mess, so if you can’t navigate it, their address is Zhongxiao E Rd, Sec 5, No. 508, 21F-3, and they have a small shop on the first floor of the back of that building (Phone 02-2759-1358). The Aperol is about 900NT, I think. I’ve mentioned before that you can get Lillet Blanc from Sundy.

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8 Responses to “Americano, Negroni, Sbagliato!”

  1. putneyfarm Says:

    Great post…trying the “unusual” and hanky-panky tonight. Cyn-cin also sounds good…

  2. putneyfarm Says:

    The “unusual” is very good. If you need a full drink to start to enjoy the Negroni, it only takes 1 sip before you adjust to the “unusual”. I have it that this will be a good summer drink for us…refreshing, but with more substance than many summer cocktails. Thx.

  3. Doug Ford Says:

    I’m with you on your hypothesis about the origin of the name “Americano.” It’s the bitters… Good article, thanks.


  4. I asked the makers of Cocchi Americano about the word origins of the name and received the following informative email below.

    I suspect the second part of the name “cano” is an adulteration or play on the italian for quinine – “china” [KEE-nah], referring to the Peruvian chinchona bark that is used as bittering agent (rather like wormwood is in a vermouth) in their own aromitised wine. Quinine is also thought to be an ingredient in Campari. So you have a bitter drink (Amaro), made from quinine (kee-nah). All of a sudden its not so hard to see how “(Amaro)-(Kee-nah)” is fun naturedly changed to The Americano! Which i’m sure was one of the words on the menu that curious American tourist at the time may have recognised and as a result, quite frequently ordered from the Menu.

    Anyway, back to that letter of reply…

    “Hi Donough, thanks for your message. The rooster in the label is the symbol of the town of Asti and white and red are the official colors of Asti . The name “Americano” is not a brand but a category of products recognized by our legislation for the aperitivo wine based family.

    It happens that Giulio Cocchi was considered the father of Americano having formulated the first recipe 120 year ago. I was not born yet, but the name, maybe, did not come out because of America but meaning “amaricante”, so: bitter.

    Our aim is to look 100% Italian in spite of the name and there is no willing to play on it, but this is history and in the past the name brought both Cocchi and other producers to play with the name using stripes, flags and even the statue of liberty on labels, but the origin in not that one.

    It is also understandable that at that time, when the first great flow of Italian emigrants reached USA, the greatest exotism and dream was America and not Polynesia, so Americano was a good exotic name for an aperitivo.”


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