They don’t make it easy. Following a hard day’s work, who wants to enter the esoteric sect that is the modern cocktail bar? A world where bartenders have been replaced by mixologists and your concoction can contain ingredients as obscure as they are unpronounceable. Under the dim neon lighting of a basement bar, it is all too easy to fall back on what you know: “Two Mojitos, please.”
Ranking cocktails is a tricky business — it is a matter of taste. If you happen to have tried every cocktail known to man and beast (or even if you haven’t) and the Mojito comes out top, then that’s what you should order. However, you should also be aware that for every Mojito you drink, a bartender, somewhere, dies (just a little, inside).
Thankfully, people are becoming aware of the fact that Mojitos aren’t the sophisticated choice for the man or woman about town. Instead, many are going to the other extreme — picking one of the most intricate cocktails and ordering it by the truckload. If you really want to see “mad men”, step into a busy bar and order half a dozen Old Fashioneds. The bartenders are instantly faced with a dilemma. It takes at least five minutes to make an Old Fashioned properly, so you’ll either end up waiting a while or getting a substandard cocktail (usually the latter).
But do not fret: you can have your cocktail and drink it. There is one cocktail that will set you apart from the crowd (at least for the time being). A cocktail that will prove — in an instant — that you are not out of place; that you know what you are doing; that you belong to the cocktail set (or sect). A cocktail that will give the bartender hope that all the hard work is worth it. And that cocktail is the Negroni.
The story goes that the Negroni was invented at Florence’s Caffè Casoni in around 1919. Count Camillo Negroni was supposed to have asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to add a kick to his favourite cocktail, the Americano; gin replaced the soda water and one of best cocktails ever made was born. In 1947, Orson Welles described it as follows: “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
This classic cocktail is the perfect balance of otherwise jarring flavours: of herbal gin, of (sweet) sweet vermouth, and of bitter Campari. It is deceptively simple but it is widely considered by those that know a thing or two about cocktails to be the drink that really tests a bartender’s skills (but within a reasonable timeframe).
One tried and tested Negroni with a twist is currently being served at the City of London Distillery (CoLD), which is tucked away behind Fleet Street. The London Negroni is made with City of London Dry Gin (which is distilled on site by Jamie Baxter, the master distiller), London-made Kamm & Sons Ginseng spirit for the bitterness, with Sacred Spiced English Vermouth, made in Highgate. As far as I know, The London Negroni is only made in CoLD, which is a charming and friendly place to while away an evening.
THE LONDON NEGRONI
25ml City of London Dry Gin
25ml Kamm & Sons Ginseng spirit
25ml Sacred Spiced Vermouth
Add ingredients to a rocks glass filled with ice (do not stir)
Garnish with a sliver of orange peel