The Perfect Springtime Apéritif
Looking for a nice, perky drink to serve before your Easter dinner? Something with a flavor that says zip, but without over-the-top alcoholic content? And most of all, something that would be refreshing during the unseasonably warm (heck, hot) weather we’ve been experiencing in much of the US this spring?
Then I’d suggest a Negroni.
Never had one? Or even heard of it? Well, prepare your taste buds for a sunburst of refreshing flavor.
An apéritif — also spelled aperitif (aperitivo in Italian) — is a drink, usually alcoholic, most often served before lunch or dinner. It is meant to excite (stimulate) the appetite.
You can use the term apéritif for any predinner drink (as I do with the Negroni here). But the term can also refer specifically to certain types of bottled alcoholic beverages that may be served either on their own or as an ingredient in mixed drinks. Many of these (second definition) apéritifs are light, made with a wine base, and have herbs and other flavorings added. Vermouth — both dry (white) and sweet (red) — is an apéritif that is familiar to almost everyone.
Some apéritifs are rather bitter. Perhaps that’s because bitter flavors stimulate the appetite (for example, chocolate has a slightly bitter quality to it, usually masked by sugar).
Many Italian apéritifs are difficult to find in the US. But not Campari, a bright red, bitter concoction that is one of the most famous apéritifs — and a prime ingredient in the Negroni.
Recipe: Negroni Cocktail
The Negroni is simplicity itself: Combine equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin. Stir with ice, then strain into a cocktail glass (or serve on the rocks, if you prefer). Easy.
The Negroni probably developed from the Americano, a cocktail made with Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda. Legend has it that one day in 1919, a certain Count Negroni was in a Florence bar, and asked the barman to make him a stronger Americano by substituting gin for the club soda. (It’s unclear whether Negroni was really a count. But legends are supposed to be kinda murky, aren’t they?) The drink became wildly popular, and a new classic cocktail was born. Who knows how much of this is true? But whatever the provenance of the Negroni, it’s an extremely refreshing drink.
This recipe serves one. Preparation time? About 2 minutes.
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (the red stuff; Martini and Rossi is widely available and good quality)
- 1 ounce gin (I like Beefeater in my cocktails, but any good brand works well)
- orange wheel or twist for garnish (optional)
- Fill mixing container half full with ice.
- Add ingredients.
- Using a long-handled spoon (a bar spoon is ideal) stir vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that’s been chilled). Or serve on the rocks.
- Garnish, if you wish, with an orange wheel or twist (I often omit the garnish)
Why Stir Rather Than Shake?
Note that the recipe directs you to stir the drink. There are three reasons for this:
- It makes the drink cold.
- Stirring with ice somewhat dilutes the drink, which adds volume and an important dimension to the final flavor.
- When you shake, you introduce tiny air bubbles into the drink, which (until they dissipate) give the drink a somewhat “cloudy” appearance. You can shake if you want — although I never do with this cocktail — but your drink will be cloudy. (By the way, you should always shake a drink containing any citrus juice, because citrus is difficult to incorporate into a drink merely by stirring, and because the inclusion of citrus juice means the drink will never be crystal clear anyway.)
- The Negroni is one of the rare cocktails that originated in Italy (Italians don’t drink that many cocktails).
- A lot of people don’t like straight Campari, or straight sweet vermouth, or straight gin. So they think they wouldn’t like a Negroni. But you’ve heard the saying (attributed to Aristotle) that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts? Well, it’s true with this drink — each ingredient mellows the others, combining to produce a flavor that is bright, light, and only a touch bitter (and it’s a good bitter). Together, these 3 ingredients produce a superb cocktail.
- Some ingredients (such as bitters) are like seasonings for cocktails. They add an interesting dimension, and bring out shades of flavor in the base spirits. A lot of apéritifs (the ones sold in bottles, not the predinner drink) serve this function well. In fact, the Campari partially plays this role in the Negroni.
- Although this is a pretty drink when served “up,” many bartenders serve it on the rocks. I like it both ways. On-the-rocks may be the more refreshing way to drink it (all that ice). Try both, and see which you prefer.
- I like Beefeater gin in cocktails, and that’s what I generally use (except for Martinis, where I prefer Plymouth’s). Whatever you like probably will work fine. (Well, avoid cheap no-name stuff.)
- Any name-brand sweet vermouth will also work well. I often buy Martini and Rossi. Cinzano is another good brand.
- There is no substitute for Campari in this drink. I love the taste of it and always have a bottle in the house — but then, I like a Negroni now and again. If you’re unsure about whether you’d like this drink, try ordering one when you’re out sometime to see if you like it. If the bartender doesn’t know how to make it (some don’t), the instructions are easy: equal parts of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari.
- A 1:1:1 ingredient ratio is most commonly used for this cocktail. Some people like 2 parts gin, and 1 part each of sweet vermouth and Campari. I think a 2:1:1 ratio makes it too boozy for an apéritif. But if you’re drinking your Negroni simply as a cocktail, it’s not bad.
Other Great Springtime Apéritifs
Or should I say predinner drinks? Anyway, if a Negroni doesn’t tempt you, a light white or red wine is always a nice choice. And of course you can never go wrong serving something bubbly. Perhaps an Italian Prosecco or French Champagne?
Speaking of Champagne, the Classic Champagne Cocktail is always welcome before a celebratory dinner. Another great choice is a Pimm’s Cup — which to my mind is the quintessential warm-weather cocktail.
If you want something with a bit more oomph, the Classic Daiquiri (the one not made in a blender) is seasonally appropriate. Or how about a Mai Tai or Gin and Tonic? You might even try a Pegu Club.
If you’ve finished doing your taxes and want to celebrate, the Income Tax Cocktail would be a superb choice. You haven’t yet done your taxes? Then have two.
Me? I’ll definitely be having one of the options listed above for my Easter apéritif. But you can’t go wrong with a Negroni. Just saying.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Income Tax Cocktail
Classic Daiquiri Cocktail
Pegu Club Cocktail
Gin and Tonic
Mai Tai Cocktail
Corpse Reviver Cocktail