As a devoted fan of the citrusy, slightly bitter taste of Campari, I’m naturally a proponent of the Negroni cocktail as well. One part Campari, one part gin (another spirit I’ve grown particularly fond of lately), and one part vermouth; the Negroni is fairly simple to make. I had the pleasure of sipping a cedar infused version of this cocktail recently, which only augmented my admiration for the drink. Then, as luck would have it, Negroni Week came along (sponsored both by Campari and Imbibe Magazine to raise funds for charitable organizations). At first, I was over the moon. This enthusiasm quickly turned to mania in an effort to create my own twist on a Negroni that–I hoped–would be every bit as clever and delicious as that cedar-scented incarnation.
As I mentioned, I’ve been a big fan of gin lately and, to that end, I had already set about infusing gin with bay leaves and peppercorns. It seemed I was fated to use this concoction in my Negroni. I was pleased with the results of the infusion. It took that herbaceous quality of the gin and enhanced with a certain earthiness and spice.
However, when I added the Campari and vermouth to my new and improved gin, the bay leaves got a little lost due to the strong flavors of the other players in the trio. Instead, the mixture became medicinal and perhaps too intense. I decided it needed some sweetness to balance the other forces.
After a great deal of contemplation and experimentation, I finally developed a plan, using these…
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz bay leaf, peppercorn infused gin
- 1 oz dry vermouth
- 5 grapes, cut in half and charred with a culinary blow torch
Muddle 4 of the 5 grapes with the Campari, gin, and vermouth in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Drain into a short glass. Slide the 2 charred grape halves onto a cocktail pick for garnish. Enjoy!
As noted earlier, my dilemma was how to add sweetness to this drink. Some kind of citrus would have been the obvious answer to play off of the Campari’s notes. Instead, I looked to grapes, the fruit from which vermouth is distilled. To make it a little more interesting and marry with the more intense, savory flavors of the spirits, I decided to char the grapes, imparting a subtle taste of charcoal into the mix.
The end result had the balance I was hoping to achieve. Citrus and sweetness are balanced by bitter herbs and a peppery, cinder finish. It’s a little more complex than the classic Negroni. Was it as good as the cedar Negroni? That’s tough to say. I guess I’ll have to revisit that one.
Happy (end of) Negroni Week! Cheers!