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food / travel

Long Live The Negroni, The Eternal King Of Cocktails

How is a cocktail invented, and how does it become iconic? An analysis of the art of mixology, through what may be the most famous cocktail in the world.

A man pours Negroni into a glass

A man pours Negroni into a glass.

Lara De Luna

TURIN — “The great classics of mixology have never been as important as they are now, not even when they were created. But perhaps their creation is dwindling?”

This challenge was launched by Hamish Smith, director of Drinks International, at the opening of his journal’s report on cocktails for the year of 2023. It’s up to us to take up the challenge, but the indisputable truth is that classic cocktails are in better shape than ever. And in this, Italy plays a major role: the undisputed king of drinks is, once again, the magical Negroni.

How is a legend born? It all began in Florence in 1919, when Count Camillo Negroni made a request to his favorite bartender, Folco Scarselli of Caffé Casoni, to modify his favorite cocktail, the Americano. With the substitution of gin in place of soda water, the Negroni was invented. Today, it is considered the most consumed drink in the world, according to Drinks International, which monitors annual cocktail sales worldwide.

Glass of Negroni.

Glass of Negroni.

Matheus Frade/Unsplash

An Italian creation myth

Robust and full of character, it was first called the “Americano alla moda del Conte Negroni” (The Americano in the fashion of Count Negroni), and was later shortened to the name of the man who suggested its creation (instead of the one who physically prepared it).

More than a century after its birth, the Negroni is anything but a static institution: cherished, loved and imbibed, it has been modified many times throughout history. Bars, books and historical research have been dedicated to it. It is, in every sense, an infinite myth, and its success is undoubtedly worthy of study. Being the world’s best-selling cocktail for two consecutive years – according to the Drink’s International ranking – while carrying the values and style of another era is a true achievement.

The ranking data is remarkable. The Negroni is the best-selling cocktail in 26% of bars worldwide – the survey’s reach is extensive – and for an additional 46%, it remains among the top two bestsellers. The reasons behind its popularity can be traced to various factors.

The next famous twist of the Negroni may already be out there.

Firstly, it is Italian, and the brand of our country – contrary to what one might think at home – is incredibly strong, driven mainly by bitters and amari, which are versatile in mixology and naturally low in alcohol content. “The Negroni is bold and complex,” the experts wrote in their ranking, “but also bright and uplifting, with a wonderful color.” Its aesthetics are captivating, and this is another reason for its success: it is easy to understand, not overly complicated, enjoyable to drink and, above all else, easy to make. Each ingredient is poured in equal parts: gin, red vermouth and red bitter. Then, gently mixed.

Its DNA is also deeply talian, even though the Count Negroni’s version is nothing more than a twist, or what we might call today a mistake, based on preexisting cocktails. Initially, as aforementioned, it was the Americano, but even before that, there was the Milano-Torino, a deceptively simple combination of Campari and sweet vermouth. The addition of carbonated water was the first modification made to the original cocktail, which was invented in Milan (the reference to Turin lies in the use of vermouth, which is of obvious Savoy origin).

Today, another step forward has been taken with the Negroni Sbagliato, which has recently become popular on TikTok. Created in the 1970s, it is yet another star born from a mistake. According to legend, the Milanese bartender Mirko Stocchetto, while preparing a Negroni, accidentally grabbed a bottle of prosecco instead of gin. And so the wheel turns and continues to turn. Today, the next famous twist of the Negroni may already be out there, ready to be kissed by the undisputed luck of the king.

\u200bA waiter preparing a glass of Negroni.

A waiter prepares a glass of Negroni.

Himal Rana/Unsplash

Time for a new classic?

But what new ideas could be left in the shadow such a global phenomenon? Why aren’t new classics emerging? The recipes from the 2000s are the last ones that have left a mark – think of Sam Ross’ Penicillin or the Gin Basil Smash – in good company with iconic drinks from the ‘70s-’90s like the Espresso Martini and the Cosmopolitan. From 2010 onwards, however, little to speak of.

Could it be, as suggested in Drinks international’s 2023 report, “that cocktails destined for classic status are still in the incubation phase? Perhaps, but it could be a pious wish.” Otherwise, there would be no explanation as to why we are still drinking cocktails invented in the 19th century, loving them dearly, and not switching to recipes born in the era of globalization.

According to industry critics, the problem lies in a significant contemporary lack: the repeatability of the recipe. “With greater attention to seasonal drinks, sometimes with abstract themes or complex technical processes, modern cocktails lack the basic characteristics of classic cocktails.”

Furthermore, increasingly, it is the name of the bartender that is pushed into the spotlight, not so much the recipes. It’s an ego-driven factor that is depriving us of entire decades, which might be remembered, perhaps, for the birth and refinement of new techniques, but not for recipes that could become stars and witnesses of a historical period. However, as it has been, is, and will continue to be, the Negroni remains a timeless classic.

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