Happy Birthday to me!

decon1The Boo Lion turned one last week, so I decided to get busy with the power tools and do a little deconstruction work.

But first, some thanks to those of you who have helped me during my first year, and yes, I mean you, the readers. I’m very grateful to my friends, and anyone who stopped by to read this blog. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I run into a friend I haven’t seen in a while, and they say how they’re enjoying reading my blog. The even greater surprising pleasure was the wonderful kindness and support from complete strangers in the cocktail blogging community. I hadn’t even read blogs before I started this one, and I was amazed at how nice and friendly other bloggers can be.

Thanks a lot guys!

Anyway, after a year it’s about time to pull out the power tools in service of mixology.

Last week, I blogged about Negronis. I left out one of the most fun – the Deconstructed Negroni.

The Deconstructed Negroni has nothing to do with Derrida and postmodernism. It’s about separating out some of the ingredients through the technology of molecular mixology, specifically nitrous canisters to create foam. I know it doesn’t sound like a job for the average kitchen cocktailian, but don’t despair, there is another method!

The Deconstructed Negroni is made by Charlotte Voisey as a version of her Unusual Negroni, which I featured last week, but with the Aperol being made into a foam that sits on top of the gin and Lillet Blanc mix.

If, like me, you don’t have nitrous canisters, you can use a whisk. Eric Felten recommends using a sturdy wide mixing glass, and rubbing a small whisk between your hands like a boy scout rubbing a stick to make fire. I don’t have a small whisk, and I wasn’t very happy with my resulting foam (although it was still quite passable). Electric whisks are very expensive in this country. Electric whisk heads are not. Neither are power drills.

DSC_1174Oh, yeah! That’s the way I do it.

DSC_1180I can’t believe I waited a year to use power tools in the service of the cocktail arts.

DSC_1101The Deconstructed Negroni

1 1/2 oz gin

1 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc

Aperol foam

Lightly stir gin and Lillet over ice in a rocks glass. Spoon Aperol foam on top.

Aperol Foam

1 oz Aperol

1 egg white

2 oz strained grapefruit juice

2 tsp orange bitters*

Whisk ingredients into a frothy foam (with whisk, electric beater or power drill).

First of all 2 teaspoons of orange bitters is a hell of a lot! I like my Angostura Orange Bitters, but they’re very strong, and can easily overpower a drink. I used two small dashes, and less would have been fine. But you certainly want some, as I think orange is very important in a Negroni.

As with the Unusual Negroni, you want a light and/or citrusy gin with this one – Plymouth and Hendricks work well.

Finally if, you don’t have Aperol and Lillet, you can use the usual Negroni ingredients – sweet vermouth and Campari. This makes a good drink, but the Aperol and Lillet combo is better.

The drink is a winner! It’s fun to make, good to look at or show off, and delicious to drink.

Addendum

A final Negroni variation I neglected to mention is apparently quite chic in cocktail circles now, but I don’t have ingredients for it. It’s the White Negroni. Putney Farm has a great article about it, and Jason Wilson has a recipe in the Washington Post. I’m on holiday for a couple of weeks, and checking out a few of Wellington’s cocktail bars. Maybe I’ll get a chance to try one.

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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.

Cynar for my Valentine!

February 14, 2012

It’s Valentine’s Day so I need to make something romantic, and nothing says Valentine’s Day like artichoke hearts.

Er, let’s that again. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like an obscure, bitter, mud-brown, digestive aid.

Um, Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a fine Italian liqueur. Oh, and hearts equals Valentine’s, right?

It’s Cynar! It’s pronounced ‘chee-NARR’. I tried some in the weekend with tonic (pictured above), and loved it. The author of my ‘Encyclopedia of Wine, Beer and Spirits’ describes it as a ‘drink for the brave’ and one of the low points of his visit to Venice. In Boozehound, even Jason Wilson, who loves this stuff, calls this bitter drink an acquired taste which takes a little getting used to. Well, with that kind of publicity, I just had to try it, and a friend was good enough to bring some back for me after a trip to LA.

Naturally I approached it with some trepidation. The first sip, from the bottle didn’t leave much of an impression, except that I was surprised by its lack of bitter awfulness. Later I mixed it up with some tonic (Schweppes), crushed ice and a lemon wedge. It was wonderful! Bitter, yes, and I like that, but also sweet. And then there’s the artichokes. I don’t know what artichokes taste like, but I bet it’s not this. Cynar is very round, and fruity tasting, with a not unpleasant bitter aftertaste. The taste is deep and flavourful.

Cynar is quite low-proof, at 16.5% ABV. It is made in Italy where it is drunk both as an aperitif, and a digestif, usually on the rocks, or with soda. I read that in some parts it is drunk with orange, so I tried that too. Also very nice, but I like the tonic better. For mixing, it has recently been used as a substitute for Campari or other Aperol (Italian bitter liqueurs) in drinks like the Negroni. I have yet to try that, but am very keen.

So tonight, for Valentine’s Day (well nominally so), I mixed it with some fancy Italian lemonade. I’d been looking for this bitter Italian soda called Chinotto, which is made by San Pellegrino who make the well-known mineral water. I didn’t find it, but picked up a couple of cans of their Limonata at Jason’s. It’s a dry, sour, very delicious lemonade, and it mixed very well with the Cynar. I thought it at least the equal of tonic as a mixer, and perhaps more refreshing (but just maybe the tonic brought out the flavour a little more). My wife, on the other hand, had an expression which changed rapidly from intrigue to revulsion. Oops. But on reflection (and after mixing it up a little more) she said it was fairly good, but the unexpected bitterness reminded her of Chinese medicine and a Chinese medicine drink you get in night markets.

I, however, am hooked on this stuff and recommend it very strongly. Their advertising from the 60s is pretty cool too:

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