Negroni Week begins on June 1. The national event, sponsored by Imbibe and Campari, annually raises more than $100,000 for charity. In Charleston, more than 20 bars and restaurants will forward a portion of the proceeds from Negroni sales to a nonprofit of their choice. For a complete list of participants, visit negroniweek.com.
But before you snag a barstool, it’s worth getting better acquainted with the showcased cocktail. Ten Speed Press this month published Gary “Gaz” Regan’s “The Negroni: Drinking to La Dolce Vita,” a compendium of recipes and history of the drink, which dates back to around 1919. I recently spoke to Regan about the enduring mystique of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.
Q: It sounds like you’ve always been a fan of Negronis.
A: Well, no, I can’t say always. But probably since the mid-1990s, I’ve been a big Negroni fan. I can’t remember my first Negroni. I’ve really thought about this, but I have not a clue when I was first introduced to the drink. I just know when I found it, it became one of two drinks I order incessantly.
Q: What’s the other drink?
A: A Manhattan.
Q: But in the book you say many people have discouraging first experiences with the Negroni. What do you suggest to folks who aren’t immediately sold on it?
A: Get over yourself and order another. It’s the Campari that some people have a hard time with. In Milan, they always say you have to drink Campari three times before you begin to appreciate it. I just encourage people to drink more than one and the beauty will shine through.
Q: The book includes lots of quotes explaining the Negroni’s allure, but in your mind, what makes it the ultimate bartender’s drink?
A: There are two reasons, really, and the first is: It’s so d*** easy to make. It’s equal parts of three different ingredients. And the second reason is bartenders who are a lot more creative love to put their own spins on the drink.
Q: Right, the book includes recipes for Negronis that don’t have gin or sweet vermouth. It reminded me of putting anything in a martini glass and calling it a martini; Can you just wave a bottle of Campari over a glass and call it a Negroni?
A: I’m very liberal when it comes to that. I think people should be allowed to call the drink whatever the heck they want to call the drink. There are no rules; there are no governing parties to take your recipe to. As seriously as I take this business, I don’t think it’s a serious business. It’s just a ... drink.
Q: Here in the Southeast, we’re accustomed to drinks with American, British and Caribbean origins. Other than the inclusion of Campari, what makes the Negroni identifiably Italian?
A: The vermouth is also Italian. It’s sweet vermouth. In years gone by, people would order Italian or French vermouth, and that’s no longer a real convention, although knowledgeable bartenders know that Italian vermouth is sweet vermouth. Vermouth was more or less invented in Italy, so you put that together with Campari.
That’s the first time I’ve been asked about how Italian it is. When the Negroni was created, it was Count Negroni, who had spent time in America, who put gin in the Americano (a popular mix of Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda). It was an Italian nobleman who called for the gin. So all three ingredients, if you want to give me license here, are Italian.
Q: But we think of gin as British, so he kind of made the Americano more American.
A: He had to make the Americano more strong, because he was a cowboy. He was a tough guy. He was a gambler and he was a drinker. I just have this mental image of him going into a bar and saying, screw the club soda and throw some gin in there.
Q: The count obviously just strode in and drank Negronis whenever he felt like it. Are there right times to drink Negronis?
A: No, I don’t think there are. People might say it’s an aperitif, but for me, it’s one of those strong drinks that, because it’s pink, you can order it with breakfast.