Negroni Season

By on Wednesday, November 24th, 2021 at 10:35 pm

Negroni, made from 1 part gin, 1 part campari, 1 part sweet vermouth

It’s Negroni season! Sadly, many people will never know what that really means.

The Negroni is an easy to make cocktail with a ratio of 1 part gin, 1 part sweet vermouth, 1 part Campari. Even after two or three of these cocktails, most people are able to correctly mix it together.

The Negroni is also a cocktail like, the martini, where every ingredient being an alcohol. Most cocktails are designed to mask the flavor of alcohol, and so rely on some kind of temperance juice to dilute the drink. Not the Negroni. In fact, the whole reason the Negroni exists is to have a more alcoholic drink.

The direct ancestor of the Negroni is the Americano, first served in Milan in the 1860s. The Americano was the creation of Gaspare Campari who’s name graces a key ingredient. Campari is a bitter apéritif, a mix of herbs. It was also bright red, the result of a dye made from cochineal insects.

The Americano is equal parts sweet vermouth and Campari, with sparkling water. (In turn, this is a take on the Milano-Torino, which is the same, but sans sparkling water). Other bitter apéritifs may be used.

The Americano was a popular drink and for the next sixty years spread across bars in Italy. In 1919, in Florence, Count Camillo Negroni walked into a bar. He had walked into a lot of bars in the years since his return from Canada. On this particular night, he wanted something stronger than an Americano. Having spent a number of years living in Canada and America where gin was popular (Negroni had been a famous playboy fathering a child out of wedlock. He ran off to Canada, became a rancher, and then like many Italian immigrants at the time, returned to Italy), he swapped it for the seltzer.

The new drink was so successful, the Negroni family launched the Negroni Antica Distilleria to sell a line of pre-mixed cocktails called Antico Negroni 1919.

Since then there have been a number of variations. The Negroni Sbagliato “mistaken Negroni” swaps Prosecco for gin. The white Negroni subs in Lillet Blanc and Suze for sweet vermouth and Campari.

My personal favorite variation is is the Boulevardier dating from the late 1920s. Originally it was equal parts whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Campari, but now is usually made with bourbon. That makes the drink sweeter.

Bourbon is a liquor that has earned quite a bit of attention in recent years. It is a corn whiskey that tends on the sweeter side of hard alcohol. Originally from the south of the United States, particularly from Kentucky, bourbon-style whiskey is now made in many places around the world. I’m particularly fond of Brenne and Redwood Empire, two whiskeys that market themselves as aged in old wine barrels from France and California respectively.

Some years ago, my brother started the tradition of drinking bourbon on the night before Thanksgiving with our childhood friend, Aaron. He’s one of the few friends we shared in common from high school. His parents still live within walking distance to our parents, which is especially important when drinking large amounts of bourbon.

I don’t know the reason they started drinking bourbon specifically on Erev Thanksgiving, but ever since that first night, the party has gotten bigger. One year my brother brought a big bottle of Bulleit, and my father drove him over to Aaron’s house. He stopped in for a drink with Aaron’s father. The following year I tagged along. Then a few of our mutual friends from high school stopped by. The year after that, Aaron’s mother hosted us for dinner, and our mothers and spouses and siblings and local high school friends all came by too. Pretty soon, Erev Thanksgiving was turning into a major holiday.

Bourbon remained a big part of this dinner party. There were a few years we drank too much. One year I spent an hour trying to make a Facetime call but didn’t know how. Also it was 2am so the person I was trying to call was never going to pick up. That year I spent Thanksgiving deeply hungover, napping on my grandfather’s bed, and eating hardly any turkey.

Another year while walking the half mile through the suburban neighborhood, a local cop stopped us to harass us for the crime of not driving. Apparently, walking home is a much worse crime than driving drunk (and people wonder why New Yorkers don’t like leaving the city).

As we grew older, we grew more sophisticated. Instead of drinking bourbon neat (shots), we began mixing cocktails.

The Boulevardier became a favorite at this celebration. Since we had the ingredients, we made Negroni too, even though it didn’t have any bourbon. I oscillate back and forth between the Boulevardier and the Negroni, and think of them as the same drink depending on my mood. Either way, I’ve always thought of Negroni Season as the first crisp day of autumn through the New Year.

What is Negroni season you ask?

Some years ago, The Awl, published a story titled Negroni Season. This was long before the resurgence of the Italian cocktail, before even the popularity of bespoke cocktail bars.

The Awl stopped publishing a few years ago, and then without warning Choire Sicha pulled the plug on his recurring payment to keep the site online. Since there is no way of knowing how long the story will remain on Medium, here is a recap:

The narrative follows Evelyn Everlady in the spring of 2005, who has moved to New York City with an untrustworthy boyfriend. The boyfriend has been hanging out with an ex, who is competing with Evelyn for the man’s affection. The guy likes drinking, and one night he doesn’t come home. That’s when the other woman writes back: “It’s Negroni season, and you know he makes the absolute best Negronis ever, so we may have had a few too many and he slept here.”

Evelyn sticks it out with the guy for a while, even though she knows she shouldn’t. But her real take away from the story is: What the fuck is Negroni Season?

Its a long standing question that has inspired many debates. As I said, I think Negroni season is most of fall through the New Year because its a fun, cool weather drink. But then again, I like mixing Negroni any time of the year.


* indicates required