One of the few cocktail innovations that Italy has managed to squeeze out in the past century, the Negroni is a proud member of the select group of iconic cocktails. Like the Martini and the Old-Fashioned, it's now mandatory in any bar's recipe book, and a talisman of Old World romance -- like Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck tooling around Rome on a scooter, but in liquid form.
Given the no-brainer recipe for the classic Negroni -- equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari -- it's a given that Colorado mixologists would be messing around with it. But how does the Spanish-inflected version at Cafe Aion stack up against the classic?
See also: Detoxification with mimosas at Snooze
Appropriately enough, the origin of the Negroni has been traced to one fine day in 1919 at Caffe Giacosa in Florence, where a French count named Pascal-Olivier de Negroni asked his bartender to replace the soda water in his Americano with gin. The dates don't quite match this story (didn't Count Negroni die in 1913?) but it takes a powerful man (or woman) to popularize a cocktail, and Count Negroni, war hero and rodeo rider, fit the bill.
The key to a Negroni is Campari, Italy's most famous liqueur. A concentrated bitter aperitif with a strong herbal taste and a hint of fruit, it provides the sweetness and the bitterness that your tongue puzzles over. And since 2006, Negronis are now 100 percent vegan -- crushed cochineal beetles are no longer used to give the liqueur its deep red color. Naturally, some purists were up in arms at that change.
The best part of a Negroni -- its bitterness -- can be its downfall. If your proportions are off, it might be too strong or weak for comfort. And it has a certain fussy grandpa effect: Your gramp's idol James Bond ordered one in Ian Fleming's book Risico, with Gordon's gin for double the stodginess. And Christopher Buckley has sleazy tobacco rep Nick Naylor down vodka Negronis (heresy!) in Thank You for Smoking as a sign of his yuppie brainlessness.
It's an old-school drink, but Boulder's Cafe Aion, with its Mega Man II-inspired signage and Mediterranean-spanning menu, is decidedly not. Here the drink is called A Fino Negroni ($9), and the primary ingredients are combined with fino (refined, dry) sherry. It's a smart addition that would pair well with something from Aion's charcuterie board. The cocktail has a slightly smoky taste, with the wine adding additional venom to the bitter bite of a Negroni. This is certainly a mature drink.
Dakota Soifer, Cafe Aion's chef and owner, graciously provided us his simple recipe. All that's missing is Audrey and a scooter.
A Fino Negroni Ingredients:
2 oz. fino sherry (ex. Tio Pepe) 1 oz. gin 1 oz. Campari 1 oz. Rosso Sweet Vermouth
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Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled half-way with ice. Stir gently with bar spoon, don't shake. Serve up with orange for garnish. Buy Vespa -- I hear those things really hold their value. With every installment of Coming of Age with 21 Drinks, I'll be featuring a cocktail recipe cooked up by me or the bar itself. Have a suggestion for a place I should visit? Post it below.