Simon de Burton

How the negroni became the modern gentleman’s tipple

How the negroni became the modern gentleman's tipple
Image: iStock
Text settings

Some say it not only looks like something you might be encouraged to down in order to soothe an irritating cough, it tastes like it, too. But that hasn't stopped the Negroni - the vibrant concoction composed of Campari, red vermouth and gin - being adopted as the drink of choice among the more chic members of the Instagram generation. 

The true origins of the somewhat fey but often deceptively punchy 'standard' Negroni are as hazy as you're likely to feel in the morning after one too many. But a popular explanation is that a likely-fake Italian nobleman called Pascal Olivier 'Count de Negroni' invented it in 1919 when he visited the Caffe Casoni in Florence and tasked bartender Fosco Scarselli with perking-up his favoured Americano cocktail by substituting the regular soda with gin. It's also said that the dutiful mixologist garnished the drink with a slice of orange rather than lemon in order to differentiate it from the similar-looking Americano, an identifier that prevails today. 

The refreshing nature and uplifting appearance of the Count's eponymous beverage soon attracted fans and, within months, his family had founded the Negroni distillery in Treviso - although differing accounts attribute the drinks' invention to a General de Negrono first mixing it in 1857 in Senegal, while others think it dates from 1914. Regardless of the details, the legendary actor and film director Orson Welles gave the Negroni some traction after trying it for the first time by opining that 'the bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other...' 

One man hoping Welles was right is author Matt Hranek who, in the course of researching a new book on Italy's favourite pick-me-up has sampled thousands of Negronis in bars around the world. Hranek, a photographer, writer and all-round enthusiast of the interesting cars, watches, cigars, tailoring and other tropes of the 21st century 'gentleman', says he discovered the Negroni as a young man 30 years ago, long before its current renaissance. 'It was the first real adult drink I liked and I gravitated further towards it because it's a great one to start or finish a night out. It just doesn't have the same hammer-blow effect as, say, a Martini.'

Hranek says he decided to write the book after his work took him into the world of watch collecting types. 'I noticed it was becoming their drink of choice, a sort of mascot for their way of life. They are generally not the type of people who sit around drinking large amounts of beer or whisky, but the Negroni seems to suit situations where guys end up standing around chatting about watches, cars, clothes and so on. And, because they are interested in aesthetically pleasing things, these people are big fans of Instagram - and a Negroni, with its rich, red-orange colour, is a highly Instagram-worthy drink, something that has led to it becoming something of a cult.'

To prove his point, there are 827,637 posts and counting currently at #negroni. It's fair to say that Hranek's own enthusiastic posting has helped considerably to spread the word, but his book The Negroni takes the subject out of the Instagram shallows and into the connoisseur class, with greater insights into why it has become so popular. It also contains a host of recipes to demonstrate that, while one of the delights of a basic Negroni is its simplicity - one part gin, one part red vermouth, one part Campari - all Negronis are not necessarily created equal. Here are three examples from the book. Just as a taster (and with my personal gin preferences added). 

The Teller

This is named after the Negroni recipe mixed at Porto Ecole's Il Pellicano hotel especially for German photographer Juergen Teller. 30ml Carpano Antica Formula vermouth; 30ml Campari ; 30ml Cambridge Distillery Three Seasosn gin; splash of Chinotto soda; orange slice. 

Il Professore 

Hranek dedicated this recipe to Antonio, the highly knowledgeable barman at the five-star Grand Hotel Vesuvio in Naples. 30ml Aviation American gin; 30m; Campari; 30ml Azaline Persian saffron vermouth ; 10ml good quality coffee liquer; orange slice and coffee beans to garnish. 

Il Negroni Vecchio 

This recipe for a 'vintage negroni' provides an opportunity to drain the remaining contents of any 'classic' bottles that you might discover at the back of a cupboard. 30ml Isle of Harris gin; 30ml vintage Campari; 30ml vintage sweet Vermouth; orange slice. 4.The Bunueloni Favoured by the late Spanish Surrealist film maker Luis Bunuel, this Negroni goes heavy on the gin and has a darker than usual complexion due to the use of Campari Rosso. 90ml Cotswolds wildflower gin; 30ml Cinzano or Martini Rosso; 30ml vermouth; orange slice. 5. Rum Negroni Don't like gin? 

This Negroni made with rum is a good alternative and has a rich, bronze colouring 30ml Don Papa small batch rum; 30ml Campari; 30ml sweet vermouth; orange slice. 

'The Negroni: a love affair with a classic cocktail' by Matt Hranek costs £12.99.