The Negroni – a cocktail recognised around the globe as a bartenders favorite, a champion to the Italian aperitivo hour and hero serve of global brand Campari. While a simple drink composed of three equal parts (gin, sweet vermouth, Campari), at the heart of the Negroni cocktail is a global debate for ownership that unlike it’s recipe, is by no means simple.
Thanks to a huge investment in time, money, historians and graphologists, descendants of the Negroni family have discovered new evidence in strong support to their family claim. A claim which places the Negroni cocktail in Senegal, West Africa during its invention by a French Corsican, and over half a century before the current popular story places it in Italy.
Ask almost any career bartender of the Negroni and they’ll tell you the story of a man formally known as Count Negroni who inspired the recipe carrying his name when visiting Florence, Italy circa 1920. Like any good drink toting a good story, both have grown in equal measure developing into a gospel promoted in full-blown industry events, trainings, exhibitions and marketing campaigns. Attend a Campari event today and you’ll be presented with an impression of a dashing young Italian Count in flowing coat, top-hat and handlebar mustache carrying the name of Camillo Negroni. Problem is the man is actually not even a Negroni but a family relative (Arnold Henry Savage Landor) who strikes a better pose for the billboards than his cousin.
Visit your local big city cocktail bar and ask the resident waistcoat totting mixologist of the man called Negroni and be regaled by tales of the “adventurer, cowboy, banker and riverboat gambler in the Wild West”. A champion, a rogue, a bon-vivant and according to members of the Negroni Family, an imposter. And yet books have been written, photos have been published and birth certificates have been presented…so what’s the issue? In essence, it’s the story of two Counts, two countries and two letters. Both men carry the title “Count Negroni”, both enjoyed a Campari and vermouth cocktail and both hold a strong claim to the drinks origin. Problem is, only one could have invented it.
In an effort to unravel as much of this mystery as possible, the following is a layout of facts as they have been revealed.
Count No.1: Camillo Negroni, Italy – 1919
Born Cammillo Luigi Manfredo Maria Negroni in Florence, Italy on May 25, 1868 to Count Enrico Girolamo Maria Negroni and Julia Ada Bishop Savage Landor. In 1892, a ‘Mr Conte [Count] Camillo Negroni’ was recorded aboard the steamship Fulda departing Genoa bound for New York. He was 29 years of age. While I’m yet to find any references to his reputation as a banker, cowboy and riverboat gambler, ten years after arriving into New York he was listed in the city business directory at 624 Madison Avenue (today a Porsche Design Store) as a teacher of ‘Fencing’.
Regarded a foremost expert on the life and times of Camillo Negroni is fellow Florentine Lucca Picchi – Head Bartender, author and historian who in 2006 published the Italian book Sulle Tracce del Conte: La Vera Storia del Cocktail “Negroni” (‘On the Trail of the Count: The True Story of the Negroni Cocktail’). Up to this point, Luca’s book is regarded the definitive publication on the legend that is Count Negroni. Within the publication is images and references to the Count and his exploits in America and England prior to returning to Florence and influencing the creation of the Negroni cocktail when his local bartender – Fosco Scarselli at Caffè Casoni – added gin to the popular aperitivo Milano-Torino and created a legend.
The primary piece of evidence in support of this story lies with a letter.
Included in what has been described as a suitcase of evidence, is a letter penned in English and addressed to “My Dear Negroni” from a Frances Harper of Chelsea, London, dated October 13, 1920. The letter reads;
“You say you can drink, smoke, & I am sure laugh, just as much as ever. I feel you are not much to be pitied! You must not take more than 20 Negronis in one day!”
While there is yet to be revealed any visual evidence of this letter, this along with birth and death certificates, family trees, artifacts, photos and statements from people who have met Count Camillo personally, are said to be revealed within an English fourth edition of Luca Picchi’s book due for release in March next year.
Unlike the majority of today’s most loved cocktails, the earliest discovered recipe in print for the Negroni is not found until the 1950’s and contrary to todays perfect ratio of gin : sweet vermouth : Campari, this early recipe also included seltzer or soda water making the drink more of a highball or cooler than classic cocktail. Additionally, thanks to some digging by Elemental Mixology author Andrew Willet, the modern Negroni recipe can be found in print in, 1934 [Cocktail Bill: Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them, by under than name of “Camparinette”. Digging even further back to 1907, [Il Vermouth di Torino, by Arnaldo Strucchi] is mention of a popular drink under the heading ‘Vermouth al Bitter o Americano’ describing;
“[translated] Named Americano as in the United States there is a popular habit of drinking liquor mixed with Vermouth, Bitters and Gin (or whiskey) to form a drink called ‘cocktail’.”
While the above association to the Americano, its ingredients and it’s association to the United States sits well with the travels of Camillo Negroni and his return to Italy, it’s at this point I’d like to introduce you to our second protagonist – Count Pascal Olivier Negroni.
[For more on Camillo Negroni see: The Real Count Camillo Negroni]
Count No.2: Pascal Negroni, Senegal – 1857
Born Pascal-Olivier de Negroni on April 4th, 1829 in French speaking Corsica to the Marquis de Negroni. Pascal joined the French Army at 18 dedicating 44 years of service as an elite Cuirassier (French armored shock cavalry). During his service Pascal achieved the rank of Brigadier General, spent time as a prisoner of war during the Battle of Sedan and was awarded the highest decoration in the French Military (Voir Légion d’honneur Commandeur) for leading a heroic charge during the Battle of Reichshoffen.
While fighting in the Franco-Prussian War (1870), Pascal was the Commander of a regiment of Cuirassiers stationed in the strategic northeastern region of Lorraine, a disputed territory between France and Germany. Based out of the town of Lunéville, and as a senior officer of noble birth, Pascal and his fellow gentry were oft to engage in a soirée or three as entitled to their class. At one of these evenings – circa 1870 – Pascal introduced the Lunéville Officers Club to his signature “vermouth-based cocktail”, a drink now believed to the true source of the Negroni cocktail.
Letter No. 2:
Like all good stories and new claims, few are able to stand up to scrutiny due (more often than not) to the difficulty in obtaining records not regarded as important at the time of notation. Thanks to the Negroni family fastidiously retaining many of their ancestry documents and correspondence, a letter has been discovered which was penned by Pascal to his older brother Roche in which he writes;
“[translated] Incidentally, did you know that the vermouth-based cocktail that I invented in Saint Louis is a great hit at the Lunéville officers club?”
To put this into context, the drink was apparently created in honour of his marriage to Blanche Gérard-Fontallard (May 6th, 1857). During which time Pascal was posted as Base Commander to the French colony of Saint Louis in Senegal, West Africa (1855-1865).
Through the generosity of the Negroni family, I have been able to acquire a copy of this letter which, along with the crown of Marquis atop the letter (the family title is Marquis with Pascal a Count as he was born the second son) along with the date and signature of Pascal Negroni. The letter has further been authenticated by a certificate from the Office of Graphology.
We know the earliest discovered use of the word ‘cocktail’ can be traced to a London newspaper in 1798 and that the first cocktail book was published in America in 1864. But it was a surprise to see the word cocktail (or “cockad” as written in the letter) in common use in France as early as the 1850’s. Thanks to drink historian, author and Master Distiller Jared Brown, it seems the term was not uncommon in France in the mid 19th century as the Sherry Cobbler was all the rage. In 1889, the Exposition Universelle in Paris hosted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as part of the official opening of the Eiffel Tower. Included in the show was a fully stocked American saloon with an American bartender serving American cocktails. So successful was Wild Bill’s European tour and accompanying saloon that the cocktail surged in popularity as a result.
In a quest to reveal further evidence to the Pascal Negroni claim, one of the family members traveled to Senegal earlier this year in search of further evidence of the General having invented the cocktail during his tenure in Africa. While what there is of Senegal’s national archives where less than helpful, two late associates of the General were tracked down and asked to tell of their family’s association with the man during his posting as Base Commander and more importantly, any direct reference to the cocktail called Negroni.
– A.W. Bencheroun. 21, September 2014
"...[translated] Dr. Maurice Ousselin, a pharmacist by profession in the “African Pharmacy” located in the corner of Dubois Street and Blaise Diagne. This pharmacy belonged to our family from 1880 and was rented until 1950. Dr. Ousselin treated the French Officers assigned to Senegal and attended their Officers Mess around 1860. He often mentioned the invention of the Negroni Cocktail by a certain Captain de Negroni. I also recall that my mother’s brother who was the grandson on El Hadj Mogdadseck (1826-1880) ... who was very close to the French colonial authorities loved to talk about the Negroni Cocktail".
– Saly [last name hard to read]. 13 September 2014
"[translated] For the last ten years I have worked as a barmaid in Saly (Senegal)... I can tell you that the Negroni Cocktail is very popular in Senegal and [I] have an explanation from my own family. My great grandfather owned a textile factory in Senegal around the year 1860. The French Army would secure tropical uniforms in that factory. My grandmother would related to me that they became good friends with many of the French Officers. One of them, Captain de Negroni, gave her a horse riding saddle as a gift of friendship. This saddle is still owned by my family. The Captain married a young woman and created from her a drink composed of gin (she added Campari) and Martini (vermouth) that the white colony of Senegal adopted. I believe that is how the Negroni Cocktail acquired its name.
Additionally 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!”
Where exactly the paper Corse Martin received their information in 1980 is unknown and while they claim the Negroni was invented at the Paris Officers Club in Cercle National des Armees Saint-Augustin at the eve of the First World War (1914), it’s not unlikely that before Pascal retired from the army in 1891 that he would have introduced his “vermouth-based cocktail” to his fellow officers at their elite club in Paris.
Which leads to the bonus question; how did the drink make its way to Italy?
So who invented the Negroni?
While for this writer the current evidence is greatly in favour of Count Pascal Negroni and his mid 19th century West African romantic gesture, it can’t have been same recipe we know and love today as the all important ingredient – Campari – wasn’t invented until 1860. But as mentioned earlier, the first printed recipe for our beloved cocktail wasn’t until 100 years later (1950’s) and that included soda…so perhaps the question should be – what is a Negroni?
Hopefully more light can be shared on the subject when the fourth edition and English translation of Luca Picchi’s book (On the Trail of the Count: The True Story of the Negroni Cocktail). And while waiting, be sure to also look out for a copy of The Life Negroni by Leigh & Nargess Banks (Spinach Publishing Ltd, UK) which further delivers on the Negroni family argument. Both books are due early next year.
And while both Counts Pascal and Camillo continue their proverbial tête-à-tête for ownership through the voices of historians, bartenders and bloggers the world over, both are equally responsible for a cult that is the Negroni cocktail.
In the wise words of the bar menu at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur;
You don’t have to be a Count born in a castle and have had a distinguished career in the French Army. As long as you are tasting this cocktail, you’re in the ranks together with Count Camillo Negroni and General Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni.”
– Doubletree Hilton Hotel drinks menu, KL
[Read Also: Death By Negroni]
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
- Noel Negroni, Hector Negroni, Francois Hubert Marquis de Negroni, Lucca Picchi, Dom Costa, Jared Brown, Lyn Goldworthy, Vincent Lebon
- Luca Picchi: Author of Sulle Tracce del Conte: La Vera Storia del Cocktail “Negroni” – 2003
- Previous Articles: The Real Count Camillo Negroni & Negroni Cocktail Invented in Africa?
- Geneanet: Online Genealogy Platform – “Pascal Negroni”
- Chanticleer Society: Forum – Raise a glass for General Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni tonight
- Andrew Willet: Author of Elemental Mixology
- Peter Schraf: Tempus Fugit Spirits. The Spirit of History – Premium Spirits and Absinthes