Handle The Proof: Negroni

In the fifteen years of tending bar Chancy Jones put in before taking a job at Windmill Lounge, he remembers shaking up two--maybe three--Negronis. Three months at the cocktail dive on Maple and he's an expert.

"I've probably made 40 or 50 of them," he says.

But the complex, bittersweet and herbal fixture is not in the midst of a comeback. Windmill Lounge draws a crowd bent on sampling the classics. Charles McCrocklin's bartending experience includes Al Biernat's and The Palm. He claims a year has come and gone since he last prepared a Negroni.

Too bad, for this is one of the older--and simpler--of old-school cocktails.

In most iterations the recipe consists of equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, although some ask for just a bit less of the latter. Because gin contains a number of herbal elements that vary from brand to brand and the bitter Italian liqueur derives its character from more than 60 ingredients, a Negroni packs a rather dazzling array of flavors after the bittersweet, alcoholic punch.

Kinda the cocktail equivalent of Elmer Fudd being konked on the head--a sudden belt and then hundreds of swirling stars.

Why has this intricate aperitif slipped in popularity? "Campari is kind of an esoteric thing for the younger generation," McCrocklin says. "People aren't familiar with the flavors."

Certainly it's not an easy drink to comprehend. The Al Biernat's version rides on herbal hues under a sweetness that seems both cloying and light at the same time. But the bitterness edges into the mix and lingers. It's a precise thing: balanced and smart. At Windmill Lounge they prefer just a splash more of gin--Tanqueray 10, in this case--which allows for a smoother cocktail with accents of pepper.

Just maybe the Negroni needs a more mysterious creation story. This one involves a guy asking his bartender to do something a little diffferent with his Americano, a blend of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda. Nothing to it.

Until Prohibition, it was one of the best known cocktails in this country. After...well, Windmill Lounge is trying to lead the revival.

This is a new weekly feature, but we haven't settled into it yet. Expect a few changes and more elaboration as we continue forward.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries