Books : Check Em Out is an infrequent series of posts on books related to drinks. It's also a PSA that gets stuck in my head. It's probably a given but I'm going to mention it anyway - these reviews aren't written by a professional book critic. They're written by me. I like to read and I like to make drinks. Please adjust your expectations accordingly.

The Negroni - A gaz regan Notion by gaz regan

I recently picked up the new gaz regan book on one of the greatest drinks of all time - the Negroni. The book contains short essays, thoughts, anecdotes and recipes by notable bartenders, drinks columnists and spirit industry insiders. The common thread is an abiding respect and admiration for the Negroni - the easily made, incredibly delicious and uniquely bitter drink.  More than half of the book is devoted to recipes inspired by or based on the traditional Negroni - equal parts Gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. If you're partial to the Negroni the recipe section will be of particular interest and should keep you busy for a while.

Some of the things that stood out:

- The Torino-Milano (Amaro Cora from Turin, Campari from Milan) preceded the Milano-Torino (Campari from Milan, vermouth from Turin) which preceded the Americano (vermouth, Campari, soda) which preceded the Negroni.

- The legend of Count Camillo Negroni, who spent time in America as a rodeo cowboy and gambler, is most likely true. Count Negroni frequented Cafe Casoni, in Florence, Italy, and sometime around 1919-1920 asked for the soda in his Americano to be dropped and the remaining two ingredients strengthened with gin. It stuck and apparently he was known to have up to 40 (!) of them a day.

- The Negroni is probably the most forgiving drink on the planet. Shaken or stirred, served over ice or up (with some form of orange - twist, peel, slice, wheel) you can't mess it up too badly. Regardless of which gin or vermouth you use, when mixed with Campari the drink works (though old vermouth isn't going to do you any favors).

- A recipe for a Negroni Cheesecake? Yes, please.

- Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrooke Row flash-fuses components of the Negroni using a sous-vide machine to approximate the effect of bottle aging.

- When looking through the recipes in this book, I noticed the South Paw (a riff on the Left Hand) which has bourbon, Campari, Punt e Mes and Fernet Branca. Those four ingredients are the core of a drink I had recently come up with but in slightly different proportions. It happens.

- Dushan Zuric, of Employee's Only in New York has a great quote. "The Negroni is the favorite classic cocktail of almost any bar staff. It is said that every bartender eventually has an affair with the Negroni. The reason for this is because it takes young bartenders down a path from which they will never return. It is the Mrs. Robinson of cocktails; stunning, sexy and mature. Its dark alluring color is only a preview for the bittersweet aromas that expand on the palate."

- Regan's three part story featuring the Negroni as a euphemism is hilarious.

- Equally as amusing is Anthony Deserio's piece which hinges on a language barrier and some misinterpreted gesticulation.

It's a quick read, entertaining and informative. And since there are an abundance of appealing recipes I figured I'd try a few out.

Negroni Sbagliato at left (the glass required that I scale the recipe up by about 1.5, oh well). Sbagliato Due, right
Negroni Sbagliato at left (the glass required that I scale the recipe up by about 1.5, oh well). Sbagliato Due, right

Negroni Sbagliato - Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Prosecco, Orange Twist
Negroni Sbagliato Due - Gin, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Prosecco, Orange Twist

These drinks will see a lot of attention now that it's warm outside. The original Sbagliato (Spahl-YAH-toe) replaces the gin with a dry sparkling white wine and in fact means 'mistaken Negroni' since the substitution was not intentional. However, this proved to be an instantly appealing modification and an enduring variation at the Milanese bar where it was created. Light, refreshing, slightly bitter - it's great in the summer heat. The Negroni Sbagliato Due is the result of another earnest but fortuitous error when bartender Nick Strangeway added gin to a round of Sbagliatos. The Sbagliato Due 'second mistake' is a fantastic variation. I actually prefer this one and used Tangueray which isn't shy with the juniper. The result is your classic Negroni profile bouyed by the effervescence of bubbles from the prosecco.

Camillo In Xela
Camillo In Xela

Camillo in Xela - Rum, Sweet Vermouth, Campari, Coffee Beans, Orange Twist

Whoa! This one was incredible. The aroma as the glass approaches is rich with roasted coffee and orange. The sip spreads deep flavors of vanilla, chocolate, oak and more coffee over the delicious foundation of Zacapa 23 year rum. Campari is there but it does not dominate. It lingers on the finish but mostly exists alongside the Punt e Mes serving to enhance the darker qualities of that vermouth. Somehow the nuances of the rum remain discernible but they're bolstered by the unmistakable flavor of coffee. Briefly torching the beans seems to be the key here. The coffee manages to be singularly assertive while also unifying some of the darker more bittersweet elements.

Even after letting this one sit for a couple of minutes my initial thoughts on this drink remained unchanged - it's a mindblower. Delicious, rich, dark, sweet, bitter and complex. It does take a while to put this one together but sometimes drinks are like that. This one is absolutely worth the effort.

Mela D'Alba
Mela D'Alba

Mela D'Alba - Apple Brandy, Sweet Vermouth, Campari, Lemon Twist

The apple brandy comes through nicely on the nose. The added quantity of base spirit (2:1:1) gives this drink a nice weight and depth. The apples work nicely off of the Campari and contribute some vibrance to the overall flavor. I thought this one would be closer to a Boulevardier, and while it's certainly got plenty in common with that one the role played by the Laird's bonded really helps this drink carve out its own territory.

Bittersweet Symphony
Bittersweet Symphony

Bittersweet Symphony - Gin, Punt e Mes, Aperol, Lemon Twist

This is another 2:1:1 version but with gin up front, Punt e Mes for the vermouth and Aperol for bitterness and a nice orange flavor. This one leads with lemon oil from the twist and juniper from the gin. Punt e Mes follows playing off of the sweetness of the Aperol while bringing a darker, more intensely herbal and bitter quality than most sweet vermouths. While Aperol is not as bitter as Campari it still has contributions to make in that department. Its orange flavor also sits well among the herbs of the gin and vermouth. Slightly sweet, slightly bitter, this one manages to be light but with plenty of character.

Tequila Negroni
Tequila Negroni

Tequila Negroni - Anejo Tequila, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Flamed Orange Twist

This one occupies some interesting territory between the Boulevardier and the Negroni. The prolonged aging in oak smooths the tequila out considerably while allowing other flavors to come through. There's a nice weight to this drink but it's not quite as dark as the Boulevardier. The tequila brings an earthy quality to this one which combined with the oak interacts well with the grape and herbal components of the vermouth. There are also intriguing notes of cinnamon and chocolate. Campari is there but the beginning is all about the tequila and vermouth. Agave nudges through mid-palate along with the Campari and both linger into a long, long finish. Campari with its signature bitter flavor and the agave contributing a subtle almost honey-like quality. Dean James, who contributed the recipe, notes that you should keep the bottles close as you will likely want another one soon. He's right. I would happily make this again. And again.

Recipes:

Negroni Sbagliato - Mirko Stocchetto, Bar Basso, Milan
1 1/2 oz Campari
1 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 1/2 oz Prosecco
Garnish - Orange Twist

Stir, Strain, Up or Serve over fresh ice in a Double Old Fashioned glass

 

Negroni Sbagliato Due - Nick Strangeway, London
1 oz Gin
1  oz Campari
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Prosecco
Garnish - Orange Twist

Stir, Strain, Up or Serve over fresh ice in a Double Old Fashioned glass

 

Camillo in Xela - Max La Rocca
30 ml (1 oz) Ron Zacapa 23
25 ml (0.83 oz) Carpano Antica (I subbed a 50/50 mix of Punt e Mes/Martini & Rossi)
17.5 ml (0.58 oz) Campari
8 Coffee Beans - 3 for garnish
Garnish - Long Orange Twist

"Flame the coffee beans briefly with a blow torch, add them to a mixing glass and crush them with the flat end of a barspoon. Add the remaining ingredeients and stir without ice for half a minute, then add ice, stir to chill and dilute, then double strain over fresh crystal clear ice into a double old-fashioned glass. Add the garnish."

 

Mela D'Alba - Andrew Friedman, Liberty, Seattle, WA
2 oz Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy
1 oz Campari
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
Garnish - Lemon Twist

"Marry it, ice it, stir it, pour it, garnish, drink it."

 

Bittersweet Symphony - Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Clyde Common, Portland, Oregon
1 1/2 oz London Dry Gin
3/4 oz Punt e Mes
3/4 oz Aperol
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Stir, Strain, Up

 

Tequila Negroni - Dean James, Peccadillo, Carrboro, NC
1 1/4 oz Don Julio Anejo Tequila
1 oz Cinzano Vermouth, Rosso*
1 oz Campari
Garnish - Flamed Orange Twist

"Stir over ice and strain into chilled coupe glass or over fresh ice in an old-fashioned glass. Add the garnish. Allow the drink to command your full attention, but try not to sit too far away from the bottles, as you'll need to get up and make yourself another in short order."

*I subbed Cocchi the first time and a 50/50 mix of Dolin Rouge/Punt e Mes for the second one (yes, you will want to keep those bottles close). I hadn't combined these two vermouths before but elsewhwere in the book mention is made that this is the house recipe for Death & Co's sweet vermouth. And now Punt e Mes has an even shorter shelf life around the house because that combination is delicious.