It has recently been challenged, to the resounding shock of voices from the cocktail corner, that the bartenders favorite 21st century Italian aperitivo, was actually invented in Africa by a Corsican.
For those of you that may have read my earlier article ‘Death by Negroni‘, I’m somewhat of a recent convertee to the Italian aperitivo hour having lost a few years of my life on a Negroni trail in Florence. However, according to a descendant with too much spare time on his hand and a genealogy document tracing his family tree all the way back to the 11th century, it seems there never was anyone named Count Camillo Negroni.
Wait, stop, backtrack…Cam who? Let’s start at the beginning. Here’s the yarn bartenders throughout the world have learned verbatim (in its various forms) when delivering the aforementioned cocktail over their bars;
Once upon a time in a land called Italy – specifically Florence – people partook of the aperitivo hour (7pm-11pm ish) with a cocktail composed of sweet Italian vermouth, Campari and soda water. This was lovingly known as a Milano-Torino, a combination of Campari from Milan and Cinzano sweet vermouth from Turin all mixed together with soda water. Later this drink would be known as an Americano. Around the early 1920’s, a globetrotting count (or one-time American cowboy and gambler who settled in Florence – depending on your version) named Camillo Negroni asked for a more fortified version of the Milano-Torino and as such was given a serving of gin in place of the soda. Boom – the Negroni was born and named accordingly in his honour. With me so far? The credit for first mixing this drink is given to a man named Fosco Scarselli while tending bar at Caffe Giacosa in Florence, Italy.
A quick Google search and you’ll find Caffè Giacosa is still operating in the city today, owned as it is by Florentine fashion designer and Dr Strangeglove lookalike Roberto Cavalli. A venue self defined as “the center of Florentine society, a refined and prestigious show window for aristocrats and the elite”…clearly with no shortage of creative licence. While the cafe boldly boasts their role in the cocktails invention both online and in store with engraved plaque in place, probe a little further and they’ll reveal it was actually invented in Caffè Casoni, an antique shop / bar on the same location almost a decade before Giacosa was even opened. Tenuous to say the least. The real debate begins however when you begin probing the life and times of our heroic moniker, Conte Camillo Negroni.
One of the richest references to the story of Camillo Negroni is inside the 2008 publication On the Trail of the Count: The True Story of the Negroni Cocktail by Arnold Henry Savage Landor (1865–1924), a Florentine painter, explorer, writer, anthropologist and cat lover whose art and global adventures made him a legend of his time befriending Queen Victoria, the Prince of Serbia, Czar of Russia, King of Italy and Pope Pius X. A legend he was, a Count of Negroni he was not.
. Although the author is yet to reveal any references to the very existence of Camillo Negroni. And herein lies the conundrum. Anyone who has attended any Campari related event will eventually come across an image of a strapping claimant to the Count Negroni crown. Tophat, high collar, overcoat, cane, gloves and of course a smashing mustache all sell the part. The man is actually believed to be
According to the present day Marquis de Negroni, Francois Hubert, there has never been anyone named Camillo Negroni throughout their family history. A statement well backup by a 315 page genealogy document compiled by Francois in order to be accepted into the order of the Knights of Malta.
The Count Negroni however was very real. Pascal Oliver Compte de Negroni was a Brigadier General and bad ass cavalier of the Franco-Prussian War. Moreover, General Negroni was not Italian but a French Corsican who passed away in 1913, six years before the second phantom Count Camillo apparently created it.
In a letter sent to the editors of Wikipedia in May of this year, Francois Negroni boldly states that not only was Camillo a made up name but that the real Count Negroni – Pascal Olivier – first created the drink in the Senegalese city of Saint Louis in West Africa. The letter continues to state that Pascal;
“…invented the recipe as a present to his bride and a digestive aid for himself where he was married and lived from 1855 to 1865… Later the Negroni drink was adopted by the ‘Cercle Militaire’ (Officers Club), in Paris.”
Finally, there is even evidence in print which supports the claim that the Negroni cocktail was indeed invented in Africa. The Corsican newspaper, Corse Matin published an article on February 2nd, 1980 stating;
“[translated]A Corsican Cocktail? Was the Negroni, a classic cocktail, created by a Capcorsin? It seems so. This would be the General Pascal Negroni native Rogliano, who had the idea of this divine mixture (1/3 Gin 1/3 Vermouth, 1/3 Campari). This happened in Paris at the military officers’ club of St. Augustine, on the eve of the Great War. Your health before the grape shot!”
While a compelling rebuke, it’s still hardly definitive evidence of the Negroni’s origin in itself. Since the Wikipedia Negroni-Gate has begun, other members of the Negroni family have come out of the woodwork adding to the body of supporting voices against the current theory.As with any global icon, bloggers just like me are jumping all over this new twist, stirring up further hearsay and skullduggery in search of a good story. But I for one am still on the fence. While there is more evidence against the Camillo story than fore it, the Negroni family are equally yet to provide authentic letters or hand-written recipes that directly link the cocktail to Count Pascal or Senegal.
One final player that has not been mentioned and is yet to have a voice in this debate is the only true legal claim to the Negroni crown. The Negroi Antica Distilleria is an Italian distillery located 45km north of Venice who was established by Cavaliere Guglilmo Negroni and according to their website, have been distilling grappa and a bottled Negroni since it’s foundation in 1919 after the initial success of the family cocktail. More contradictory evidence against the Caffee Giacosa story who place their invention around the same time, yet not enough time to establish a distillery in the drinks name.
So where does that leave us?
The same place we were. Circa 1920 the Negroni cocktail became popular in Florence, Italy before inspiring the palates of Orson Wells, Tennessee Williams, James Bold and Toni Soprano. Campari dedicate a whole week to it, the Washington Post and New York Times have written about it, hundreds of books have been published under its name and millions of bartenders and bloggers worldwide have shared it. Popular variations have been born out of it like the Boulivardier (bourbon), Old Pal (rye whiskey and dry vermouth), Agavoni (tequila), Sbagliato (prosecco) or Antico (oak rested). And with such a global obsession and no shortage of supply, it’s at this point that one rightly asks of the truth, “who really cares”?
While living in Rome in 1947, Orson Wells wrote of the Negroni;
“The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
And therein lies all the truth needed. Despite the accuracy of either yarn, both balance a cult that is the Negroni cocktail. They say the best stories inspire imagination and if there is any drink in the world worthy of more than a little mystery – it’s this one.
- Wikipedia Talk: Negroni – Free Encyclopedia
- Correspondence between Antonio Santiago, Editer of Wikipedia and Francois Hubert Marquis de Negroni – 20th of May 2014
- Corse Matin: Quotidien d’informations du Sud-Est et de la Corse – Newspaper, Corsica
- Caffè Giacosa, Roberto Cavalli, Florence, Italy – Cafe and Online Store
- Black Rabbit, Special Edition: Arnold Henry Savage Landor – Blog
- Negroni Antica Distilleria, Italy
- Sulle Tracce del Conte: La Vera Storia del Cocktail “Negroni”, by Luca Picchi – 2002
- Alcademics: A Negroni or Two in Florence – Drinks Blog
- Imbibe, For UK On-trade Drink Professionals: Numero Uno, The Negroni Files – Article
- Colonel (USAF-Retired) Hector Andres Negroni. Author and Historian