Spiriturgy 004: Going off-book – Negroni and negroni sbagliato

Happy Halloween! I’m still prepping for our next official set of recipes (a couple of gin cocktails), but in the meantime, and since gin is already on my mind, here’s a recipe not present in Just Cocktails, along with a pleasant variant thereof.

I. Today’s recipe

Negroni

1/3 Gin
1/3 Italian Vermouth
1/3 Campari
Garnish with orange.

(I’ll get to the variant further in).

II. Our ingredients

Martin Miller’s London Dry Gin – This is honestly a step above my usual go-to gin (Tanqueray), but it was kindly given as a gift and I’ve been seeing it put to good use. Miller’s is very well-regarded as gins go, and it certainly doesn’t skimp on the botanicals that make gin…well, gin. Since I’ve started delving into spiriturgy, gin is probably the spirit that’s grown on me the most – which I may partially attribute to abuse caused by the gaping disparity between bottom-shelf gin (which many of us may know from days of yore) and its more respectable brethren.

Campari – The first time I tasted Angostura bitters, I thought to myself “well, these aren’t particularly bitter.” The first time I tasted Campari, by itself, I thought “now that is bitter.” Taken by itself it requires a very stern palate, but its flavors are complex and add a great deal of maturity and character when mixed with other ingredients. If you haven’t had it before, I recommend taking the tiniest sip by itself so you get a sense of what Campari brings to the table – perhaps someday I’ll graduate to drinking it solo on the rocks, as some do, but by that time I might as well go full Fleming or Hemingway and sweat gin while I’m at it.

III. Tools of the trade

You won’t need anything we haven’t mentioned already – a jigger, a spoon, a glass, and ice. As you’ll soon see, making a negroni is just about simplicity itself.

IV. The process

Negronis are traditionally served on the rocks, and you can go ahead and assemble the whole thing in a single glass for simplicity’s sake.

Start off by tossing a couple of ice cubes into your already-chilled glass – beginning with the ice is a lesson I’ve taught myself through prior error. Because you want the drink to already be chilled when you proffer it to its recipient (or quaff it yourself), each ingredient should begin cooling down once it’s added to the glass. If you start with your spirits and add ice at the end, the end result will still need an extra minute or two to chill – at which point you can either wait out a couple minutes’ worth of downtime, or start sipping while the drink is still a few degrees north of its proper temperature.

From there, just start pouring a jigger of everything into the glass. Order doesn’t really matter, but if you want to further avoid temperature issues, start with the spirits kept at room temperature (gin and Campari) to give them more alone time with the ice, and toss in the vermouth last (remember, unless you’re cracking a new bottle, it ought to be living in the fridge and already much cooler).

Stir everything together, then garnish with an orange. How you garnish is up to personal preference – I’ve seen versions with just orange peel, and with larger slices of orange (half- or quarter-moons seem most common). In these pictures, I just went with a piece of orange peel – I expect to discuss garnishes more in future posts, but here’s a quick primer in the meantime.

When using orange (or lemon) peel as a garnish, what you’re really after are the citrus oils in the rind – they contribute the most to the drink’s aroma and flavor. To get a good piece of peel, just grab a kitchen knife or potato peeler and take a thin, curved piece off of the fruit. If you cut your piece deep enough to delve into the fruit’s flesh, you took more than you needed, so try again (see the picture at left – it’s easier to show rather than tell). Twist or bend your piece of peel a bit to get the oils flowing, and toss it on in.

And there’s your negroni! I’m particularly fond of this drink, although I know it may not be up everyone’s alley in the same way as Manhattans or Old Fashioneds – gin is not to all persons’ tastes, and the Campari, though mellowed out by mixing with other ingredients, still can be a tad stern. For a mature drink that deftly balances sweet and dry notes together, though, it can hardly be beat.

V. The negroni sbagliato

The promised variant on the negroni is the negroni sbagliato (sbagliato in Italian roughly translates to “messed-up” – so think of this as a “messed-up” or “screwed-up” negroni). As with most cocktails, its origins are probably a bit too apocryphal to really pin down, but the general story goes that some bartender somewhere was making a negroni and grabbed the wrong bottle partway through.

Making a negroni sbagliato is just as easy as a regular negroni – the only difference is that rather than gin, you fill the glass with a dry sparkling wine  to taste alongside the vermouth and Campari (I’ve always used prosecco in the past, to keep the Italian concept going). It’s still normally served over ice, although you can switch up the glassware to a wine tumbler or something else if you like (after all, the drink can be as screwed-up as you like).

I’ve made negroni sbagliati (which I assume is the correct pluralization, based on my highly limited knowledge of Italian) on one occasion before, when entertaining a few friends who weren’t all the biggest of gin fans. It’s a great option for offering the character of a negroni without all of the harshness. As this New York Times writer waxes far more eloquently than I: “Drink the Negroni in autumn and winter, when you’re brooding. Drink the Sbagliato…in spring and summer, when you’re fizzing.”

If you’re desperate to try a sbagliato, we can still have summer on Halloween, can’t we?

Next time: Back to Whitfield, with those oft-promised gin cocktails, as well as a little DIY syrup-making.

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