It took nearly four years, but last month I finally tasted my first negroni, the cocktail that featured in the Weekend magazine in Saturday’s edition of The Guardian. It was described as “a serious drink for serious times … the cocktail for 2021”.
For connoisseurs, it was probably the cocktail for several years ago. My brother was telling me about them in Spain in the summer of 2017. Later that year one of my wife’s nephews told me that it was his cocktail of choice. Both of them, my brother and my nephew-by-marriage, explained how to mix a negroni, but the information didn’t stick.
When we visited Spain as a family in 2019 my brother told me about the recent batch of negronis he had made. I asked him if we could make some more while I was there. He was out of Campari. And red vermouth. And gin, as it turned out, so we had none of the three liquid ingredients required for the drink. He had plenty of oranges, so the slice of fruit that completes the cocktail would not have been a problem.
I went to the local Mercadona for supplies, but they were out of Campari too. We stuck to beer, wine and the odd glass of Jameson. On the night before my family and I flew back to London, my brother and I stayed up until 4.30am, by which time all the remaining beer, wine and Jameson had been dealt with. I slept in the car on the way to Alicante airport. And at the airport. And on the plane home.
Just before Lent began last year, the month before the UK and much of the world went into lockdown for the first time, my son and I went for an early evening stroll to enjoy a few of the things we might be giving up until Easter: fizzy drinks for him, booze for me, crisps for both of us. A delicatessen on the Terrace serves cocktails between 6pm and 8pm so we headed there, and I was planning to have my first negroni. I had seen them advertised on the board outside.
The bar was short-staffed, so there was nobody available to make cocktails. We moved on, to a place on Devonshire Road called The Italian Job, on the site of the old Pickwick’s Wine Bar, and I had beer instead. Last summer I had a few glasses of gin and tonic – as mentioned in this piece about sharing a drink with Bryan Marshall – but I didn’t go for anything more adventurous.
In the spring, the subject turned to negronis again, and the girlfriend of my nephew-by-marriage reminded me of the recipe. This time it stuck: equal measures of Campari, red vermouth and gin, mixed together over ice, a twist of orange. Last month I bought a bottle of Campari and a bottle of Martini Rosso (the first time I have ever purchased either of these drinks). I already had some gin in the house.
A few days later, after the Euro 2020 game between England and Germany, I mixed up my first negroni, without the twist of orange. Very nice. Halfway through I felt it needed an extra touch of sweetness, so I added a small measure of orange juice as well. This might be seen as sacrilege by some, like adding 7-Up to a glass of single malt, but it did the trick for me.
Last Friday, before my wife and I headed to Chinatown for our first meal in the West End since 2019, we had a visitor for lunch, my son’s godmother. She had not ventured so far across London since she last visited us, in February 2020. She had left the car at home, so she was in the market for a few drinks. I made a small jug of negroni mixture which lasted well – before, during and after lunch. It was the first time she had tasted “the cocktail for 2021”. I explained much of what I have told you in this piece – the people who told me about negronis in 2017, my false starts and my eventual commitment to buying all the ingredients.
And there, within 24 hours, the cocktail was featured in the pages of our weekend paper. It even got a mention on the front page of the main paper, as you can see here.
In the feature, written by Jess Cartner-Morley, Richard Godwin (“author, cocktail expert, and writer of The Spirit newsletter”) is quoted, saying that the Negroni embodies “spezzatura – an Italian mood of nonchalant, urbane elegance … ‘It is sophisticated. It’s very grown-up, because of that bitterness’.” Nonchalant, urbane elegance? Sophisticated and grown-up? I don’t think that my drinks of choice have even been described in this way.
You can read the whole article here. In the final paragraph, Godwin is quoted again. “’You do realize that you are five years too late, with negronis?’ teases Godwin. The real insiders have moved on to the jungle bird, apparently: dark rum, pineapple juice, lime juice and Campari.” If the real insiders are drinking it now, I expect I’ll finally get round to trying a jungle bird sometime in 2025. For now, the occasional negroni will do.