Cocktail Negroni’s origins

It appears that there are many variations of the cocktail Negroni, one of the more famous drinks in history. Generally speaking, it is composed of three parts, one third vermouth, one third bitter Campari, and one third gin. An orange slice should accompany all and – we would add – a bit of fiorentinità (being Florentine).

In July 2001, the coffee bar Giacosa closed and something in Florence passed from history to legend and that legend included the story of Count Camillo Negroni, and his idea of adding gin. The golden period of that coffee bar and the Negroni drink was the Thirties when Via Tornabuoni attracted all the snobs and those who were around them, all of whom used to spend the afternoons between what was then called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, now Piazza della Repubblica, Via Tornabuoni, Via Calazaioli and Piazza della Signoria. These were the places where one could find the great venues of the tradition of artists. Giacosa, Gilli, Paszkowski, Giubbe Rosse, Doney, and more.

There were artists who used pens and those who used canvases, but amongst them, there were also barman artists, such as Fosco Scarselli, whom many consider the inventor of the Negroni, at the Count’s requests. Possibly, the cocktail is more of a science than an art.

Someone says the cocktail takes its name from the rooster’s tail, with its different colors giving the idea of the various liquors that make up the blend. Some others, more refined, give another explanation. They suggest that the cocktail was born at the end of the 18th century at a New Orleans pharmacy, as a sort of a medicine that was mixed using a bit of cognac and a type of herbal  bitter of some sort. The name would have come from the measuring tool used, the coquetier, which was an egg-cup. English and French clients gave it their own name according to their language, slightly different, but similar words came out. The first would call it cock-tay and the others cocktle, ultimately, something that became cocktail.

Whatever the origin of the name was, that idea of a drink that pulls you up and puts you in a good mood, and therefore, in some way it heals, has established itself and still remains. It is true that there are a lot of cocktails. Nonetheless, as a general rule, the recipe is always a variation of the same.

There is a strong liqueur, a gin, a rum, a whiskey, a vodka, a brandy, a cognac, sometimes, but more rarely, two that should be in approximately equal amounts. Furthermore, there is the element giving it the variety and the creativity, some substance that gives the cocktail its peculiar flavor, even if the secret is that the taste of the strong liquor must not disappear. Here lies the secret of the barman artist, who can choose amongst some wines, preferably dry ones, which are definitely not lacking in the Italian and French tradition, and then add something aromatic.

Generally, any type of a bitter goes well, before getting the rest. The key is inventing without exaggerating as one could fall into kitch and lack of taste.

Here is the importance of the tested formulas, those that may include some cocktails of a certain nobility, such as some classics, the Manhattan, for example, which is largely whiskey and is completed with a sixth part of vermouth, divided between the dry and the red one, and then with an addition of angostura, or Rose. The latter is presented in its chalice, adding to the vermouth cherry brandy and kirsch, and it looks at you holding the stick with an olive. Another one is the Bronx, made of gin, two types of vermouth, and orange juice. It is presented with a fun slice of a citrus fruit. All these noble and established cocktails have an inventor, but few have one that is so tied to Florence and its genius, such as the Negroni has.

Count Camillo, around 1920 (someone says 1930), as a frequenter of the Casoni coffee bar, asked the bartender Fosco Scarselli to enrich with a bit of gin what the others were drinking. They all asked for the “Americano”. A cocktail that, in spite of its name was Italian and it was done with bitter Campari, red vermouth and seltz. Here we get the mixture of the Negroni-Scarselli duo, balanced and pleasant, to possibly drink before dinner, the three equal parts of gin, vermouth and bitter Campari, with plenty of selz, well filled with ice cubes and adorned with a slice of orange or lemon.

As the cocktail is done so, with a lot of water, connoisseurs call it highball, but one could call it a pleasure, a taste and a piece of refined “fiorenitnità” from which each artist barman will look for its variants.

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