Like all of cocktail history, the Negroni’s genesis is clouded by both fantasy and the fact that these stories tell of (vast amounts of) alcohol consumption. However, it is fairly unanimously accepted that the Negroni was created by, or more realistically for Count Camillo Negroni in 1919 in Caffe Casoni, Florence.
The Americano - equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth, topped with soda - was the drink of choice that night. The Count in question fancied something a little stronger, and an anonymous bartender decided to swap the soda with gin.
3 ingredients. Equal parts. It really was that simple. During the cocktail resurgence of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, aside from being recognised as an delicious drink, the Negroni was a textbook example of how balance was so vital to bringing out flavour in cocktails. Alcohol, bitters and sweetener in perfect harmony. This made the Negroni a fantastic formula in which to build variations. Gin would make way for tequila, mezcal and whiskey as the base spirit. All manner of amaro’s and bitters would find their way into the recipe in place of Campari, and the sweetener could be played with, as long as balance was maintained. White Negroni's, Boulevardiers and the Negroni Sbagliato (literally Wrong Negroni) followed.
For some, the Negroni was subconsciously seen as a status symbol. A sign of both sophistication, knowledge of classic cocktails, and a statement that you could handle the strong stuff. Ordering a Negroni at a bar was the equivalent of ordering an extra-hot Vindaloo at an Indian restaurant, but in a sophisticated way.
If you were an Italian going to bars and clubs throughout the 1970’s and 80’s however, you might have something to say about that. The drink gained incredible popularity in this period, but not as a suave sipper, or an example of precision mixology balancing ingredients. No, the Negroni was a club thrasher, drunk purely on the basis that it has a high alcohol content.
This, along with the incredibly simple structure of the drink, is why for many, the Negroni isn’t something to be over-complicated. Traditionalist would see it built in the glass, given a few spins with some ice, and a wedge of an orange slid down the side.