While a dream exit for many bartenders, only once have I felt like I might die from the sheer mount of Negroni’s I’ve consumed in one evening. And it’s possibly the single proudest moment of my semi-professional career!
Firstly, a confession. I’ve hated Negroni’s for longer than I’ve loved them. “But how can this be?” cries the voice from the back, “blasphemy” echos another, for the Negroni is more than just a drink for the budding young mixologist, it’s a definition that your taste for the classics (as much as that of your palate) has achieved new lofty heights. You now regard the stained bottle of Angostura Bitters as you would salt n’ pepper to steak, believing that EVERYTHING must have bitters. Next thing you know, you’re asking for Pink Gins and you can recite the Angostura Bitters label by heart…all of it! But this is just the beginning.
The bitter cocktail personified by the Negroni becomes your muse. You have selected only three bartenders in a city of millions who you allow to serve you your libation and its complex ratio 1:1:1 as others, “just don’t understand how to make it properly”. By the time you’re judging bars for their choice of vermouth while boasting that yours is matured in a bacon lined goats bladder for 765,000 hours at an altitude of -127 meters below sea level… you’ve finally arrived.
Or so the mentality seems to go. I however, developed my bitter palate late and as such, spent much of my bartending career using bitters in recipes only because I was told to. Today, my collection of rediscovered amaro’s, vermouth’s, elixir’s vegetal’s and basically any liquid herb garden with a label you can’t decipher, dwarfs that of any other – although I still don’t know how to say Noilly Pratt correctly.
So while I was on my honeymoon in Tuscany, Italy, I managed to dedicate one of our romance filled evenings following the aperitivo-hour across Florence in search of the perfect Negroni. As a gift to my beloved, naturally.
As a note – if you are ever to visit the stunning city of Florence, or any traditional town of Italy for that matter, the aperitivo-hour happens roughly between the hours of 7pm & 11pm and for a humble five-ish euro, offers all the Italian tapas you can eat. Each bar with their own unique menu. Tradition calls for the chasing of a fortified wine or mix there of (i.e. aperitivo) to help stimulate the palate and appetite for the main course, but to be honest it’s all the course you need.
As Florence is also the legendary home of the Negroni cocktail, our quest was pure. And since the measuring jigger in Italy offers more use as a foot spa to Smurfs, their drinks are far from lacking. That said, be prepared for some healthy measures of Campari.
7pm on the dot our quest began. With a class and style that only comes with a white Antipodean in a Latin world – my grenadine stained trainers, open top white shirt and fake sunglasses ensured I had “tourist” written in neon across my forehead wherever we went. In true tourist fashion, my attention to the bill got worse as I believed my Italian got better. Six bars later and my devotion for the bitter orange drink was starting to wane. My typically more intelligent female partner who had stuck to Campari Soda’s to “ensure we got home”, was now telling me to stop buying roses off the gypsies and singing the Cornetto song.
Lucky for me and my eternally patient wife, our final goal was just a street away. The bar formally called Negroni and a temple to the drink by the same name. Not far from this site circa 1919, a Count Negroni supposedly had his Americano cocktail enriched with gin in place of soda and in turn, created a drinking legend. But I was done. Couldn’t sniff let along sip any more Campari without potential gastric reprisal. But I’d made it, I was there, the home of the Negroni. My blood was at stage three intoxication, my jovial singing had been replaced by utter ineptitude and stupification. My words sounded more like Italian now than ever and I was trying to speak English! Just enough consciousness remained to be aware of my predicament, I’d come so far, survived so many over-poured Negroni’s and with only one left to try, I couldn’t give up now.
Stop the story. This is a flash message to anyone single – marry someone smarter than yourself. You’ll never win another argument as long as you live but you’ll always find your keys, remember birthdays and be saved in situations exactly like this.
And so my brilliant wife having understood long before I the dire straights of my predicament, returned from the bar with two huge Negroni’s dwarfed only by a fishbowl of aperitivo-hour pasta salad. Legend! One bowl of pasta and mayo later, I had regained enough social acumen to begin singing the Cornetto song once again but this time with a glass half full of cocktail and a wife who had finally reached my par and piped up with the lyric “Just oooone Negroni….”, what a lady (apologies if you don’t know the song)!And so the message of this little tale is not to drink more Negroni’s or even that you should visit Florence (though you should on both counts) but rather – the best drinks in the world are not the oldest, the first, the most authentic or the most expensive but the moments in which and with whom we share them. So eat more pasta, visit Italy and next time, don’t leave the best bars to last.
This was the Musings of a Barfly by: Rusty Hawthorn
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