On Aziz Ansari’s hit series Master of None, negronis flow as freely as the laughs. From racing to finish one before succumbing to the effects of Lunesta, to flirty “I wish we could just drink negronis and dance” text messages, the classic cocktail is practically a character of its own. And that starring role on the buzziest show of the moment confirms what many have known for years: The negroni is a classy, all-purpose and utterly delicious drink.
The American writer and chef Gabrielle Hamilton describes the drink this way in her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: “The negroni is a short and perfect aperitivo made of equal parts bitter Campari, sweet vermouth and floral gin over a couple of ice cubes with a small slice of fresh orange dropped in it to release its oils. That perfectly Italian presence, which sparks your appetite and brightens your mood, holds in balance the sweet and bitter.”
Hamilton goes on to use the negroni as a metaphor for her tumultuous love life, and it fits nicely. Like love, the negroni is complex and stimulating, inscrutable and bittersweet. The drink derives its signature red hue and bitter astringency from Campari, an herbal liqueur that’s been produced in Italy for more than 150 years. The gin and vermouth bring more botanicals to the table, and somehow all of those powerful flavors combine to create one of the most alluring drinks in the classic-cocktail canon.
Though it’s often described as an aperitif (before-dinner drink), the herbs and bittering agents also make it a fantastic digestif, perfect for quaffing after an indulgent meal. And the negroni template lends itself well to experimentation and modification. The boulevardier, for instance, is a standard riff that swaps bourbon or rye for the gin. The negroni sbagliato leaves out the gin and introduces some sparkling wine, making for a brunch drink better than any mimosa.
Whether you’re a dedicated fan or a negroni newbie, there’s no better time to drink one than during Negroni Week. The annual event, sponsored by Campari, invites bars around the world to feature negronis and donate a portion of the sales to a charity of their choice. From June 5-11, stop by any of more than two dozen Pittsburgh bars to drink for a good cause (see the full list at negroniweek.com).
In addition to classic negronis, many bars are featuring their own unique twists. Hidden Harbor will sling Kingston negronis made with Jamaican rum; Pork & Beans will serve up frozen negronis; and Pizzaiolo Primo has prepared a six-month barrel-aged boulevardier for the festivities. And true to its Italian roots, Grapperia will serve up at least a half-dozen variations on the classic. Participating bars are supporting a variety of local and national organizations, including Autism Speaks, PAWS and Rainbow Kitchen.
So do your good deed and drink a few negronis next week. You’ll be glad you did.