Cocktails: An Acquired Taste

Enjoyed alone or with a friend, the Negroni is a drink meant to slow things down.

Photography by Daniel Wood. Styling by Seth Van Havere

There are two kinds of people who order a Negroni: those who enjoy the drink, and those who are certain they should be enjoying them, but wonder if they got cocktails that are a little off. Rest assured, they are supposed to taste like that.

Those who love it kindly describe it as an acquired taste, or just “complex.” Others would call it bracingly medicinal. But understanding the role it plays, and why it’s considered a staple by the International Bartenders’ Association (meaning it’s a must-know recipe for any stripe of bartender), might be enough to encourage the curious to take a sip.

Slow it Down

The Negroni – named after Italian Count Camillo Negroni, who is thought to have played a part in inventing the drink’s recipe in the 1920s – is traditionally served as an apritif.

Apritifs slow us down. They prepare the stomach, facilitate conversation and bring relaxation to fine dining. Such beverages are often dry, sour or bitter, because these particular flavours excite the appetite, as opposed to sweet flavours that close the palate. That’s why you were told not to eat those cookies before supper.

Josh Meachem, managing partner and bartender of Edmonton restaurant Solstice Seasonal Cuisine, puts it another way: “The Negroni is a transition cocktail, signaling the end your workday and shifting you into your end-of-day meal.” And, like a fantastic meal, the Negroni is a balance of disparate flavours that come together as a beautiful whole.

Small Changes, Big Difference

The recipe is simplicity itself: Equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, topped with a slice of orange rind. On its own, Campari makes Buckley’s taste like ambrosia. But a Negroni’s personality comes down to your choice of vermouth and gin.

Meachem employs a selection of fine vermouths, each with its own unique body.

The gin becomes nearly tasteless in the mixture, but can add light notes of rose or cucumber, depending on the brand used. Done well, the Negroni leads with an orange nose, embraces the palate with an aromatic fullness from the vermouth, and nibbles the tongue with bitterness and spice. But the balance of each can change with the slightest variation in ingredients, highlighting flavours that were previously hidden.

For those trying the drink for the first time, Meachem advises: “Split it with a friend. It’s meant to be a communal activity.” Maybe on a patio in warm weather, for a taste of Florence.




1 oz gin, 1 oz sweet vermouth and 1 oz Campari

Orange peel

Fill glass with ice. Combine liquid ingredients and stir. Strain into another glass with fresh ice. Squeeze the orange peel over the new glass, run it along the rim and add to the drink.

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