It's the little differences that make all the difference. Of course I can relate this statement to my love and endless and healthy(?) fascination with cocktails. I write this as I sit at home having the national cocktail of Federal Republic of Bruce, an absolutely perfect Negroni. The Negroni, an oh so satisfying drink, traditionally a blend of gin, Campari (invented by Gaspari Campari in the early 1800s), and sweet vermouth in equal amounts, is an old school classic. It is named after Camilo Negroni who lived in early 1900s Florence and always ordered this particular libation.
My particular love affair with Camilo's concoction began years ago, and has never waned, through the highs of enjoying them at a sunny outdoor café table on the Giudecca Canal in Venice (for $2.00!!) to the lows of waking up after perhaps one too many with the unfortunate feeling of an elephant tap dancing on my head.
But I found out how big a little difference can be after a San Francisco afternoon a few years ago spent on a hunt for the perfect Negroni. It was in the bar at Bix, a wonderfully atmospheric place and perhaps my favorite Bay area haunt for martinis and other cocktails , that I learned the secret. I think this was stop number three on the search, and one sip in my eyes went wide and I turned to the bartender and said "You did something different here, didn't you?" I remember his satisfied little smile as he said that he indeed had his own minor variation on the classic one-to-one-to-one proportions. For so simple a recipe, you'd be amazed at how many bartenders screw it up, or riff on this, and completely lose sight of what is a drink that, as an old drinking companion succinctly said, "Made correctly is the perfectly balanced cocktail." So what was that little difference that made the perfect cocktail into something that was touched by the hand of God? He keeps the usual proportions of one part gin and one part Campari, but instead of one part sweet vermouth, he used 1/2 sweet and 1/2 dry vermouth. The dry vermouth gives it this slight acid bite that balances out the richness of the Campari and gin.
And if the Negroni is the National Cocktail of this Republic in my mind, then Tanqueray gin is the National Beverage. I say that as a prelude to advise you to use a somewhat more neutral gin...I prefer Gordon's...because the assertive flavor of Tanqueray tends to overpower the other elements. So easy, so good, and so important to my happiness. Mille grazie Camilo!
The Perfect Perfect Negroni
1 part gin, preferably Gordon's
1 part Campari
1/2 part sweet vermouth
1/2 part dry vermouth
Shake with ice, strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.