We raise a glass to the Negroni in honour of Negroni week. This enduring bittersweet aperitif has become a crowd favourite, and it’s easy to see why.
But the Negroni’s rise to fame wasn’t instant, taking almost a century for this drink to find its popularity.
Although there is some debate surrounding the origin of the Negroni, the most widely reported and accepted version of this drink’s history begins with the infamous Count Camillo Negroni. A colourful and interesting character, Count Negroni developed a taste for liquor while working as a rodeo clown in the American Wild West.
Returning to Italy at the introduction of the prohibition, the Count became a regular at Florence’s Caffe Casoni. It was there in 1919 that he asked the bartender, Forsco Scarselli, to strengthen his Americano by adding gin instead of soda water. Scarselli obliged and replaced the lemon with an orange slice to signify the new drink. The change may have been slight, but word caught on, and before long the bar was inundated with orders for a Count Negroni.
A lesser-known – but no less plausible – claim to the Negroni places the origin of the cocktail in Senegal, West Africa. It is said that a French General, Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni, may have invented the drink as a romantic gesture for his young bride, over half a century before the previous story took place.
While there is some evidence supporting this claim, Campari wasn’t invented until 1860 – meaning that this recipe would have differed slightly from the one we have come to know and love.
Regardless of how the Negroni came to be, what is known for sure is that it was designed as an aperitif. The cocktail was a staple in aperitivo hours across Italy for almost a century before it found its worldwide fame.
This Italian tradition of aperitivo hour takes place between the hours of 6-9pm to stimulate the appetite in anticipation for dinner. Bittersweet drinks like the Negroni are key as they help cleanse the palate, and light snacks are served to help rouse a drinker’s appetite.
Negroni’s global domination began a decade ago, thanks to a resurgence of interest in gin and bitters. Campari solidified its popularity in 2011, declaring it “The Year of the Negroni,” and making the recipe widely accessible. The drink began appearing on more and more menus around the world, going from a quiet classic to a staple cocktail. Bartender and author of The Negroni: Drinking to La Dolce Vita, Gary Regan, estimates that today the drink “appears on about 300 per cent more cocktail lists than ten years ago.”
Garnish: Orange peel