The Negroni can be an intense experience. First-time Campari drinkers are even known to display "Campari Face" on their first sip, their features distorting as their palate shock takes physical form. Not everybody loves bitter flavors right off the bat. While the Negroni's additions of bracing botanical gin and spiced sweet vermouth take the edge off a bit, it's still a deeply flavored, saturated kind of cocktail. Some Houston Negroni Week participants are taking the spirit of the drink in a different direction, lightening the cocktail to make it into something more like a bright summer sipper, instead of a sultry lounge act. Others are doubling down, turning the drink into indulgent confections that fairly ooze richness.
Over at The Durham House, James Caronna believes in the inherent flexibility of the Negroni formula. "It's become shorthand for bartenders now, much the way the Last Word (cocktail) has," says Caronna. "We can say, 'Hey, try Negroni proportions,' when thinking of new cocktails. Because of the simplicity of the measurements, it's very easy to sub out one ingredient and come up with a drastically different-tasting cocktail."
That flexibility extends beyond the literal formula or a round of the substitution game, allowing the bittersweet spirit of the cocktail to inspire a host of spin-offs. For The Durham House's lighter spin-offs, Caronna turns to fruit and acid, offering up a couple of riffs that marry the Negroni with other perennial bartender favorites, the classic Sour and the Daiquiri.
1 ounce Campari
1 1/2 ounce Texas Highborn gin
1/2 ounce Lemon Juice
1/2 ounce Lime Juice
3/4 ounce (2:1) Simple Syrup
1 Egg White
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake until well chilled and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a few drops of Peychaud's Bitters deposited on top of the foam.
2 ounce Campari- and Denizen Rum-infused Watermelon Juice*
3/4 ounce Lime Juice
1/2 ounce (2:1) Simple Syrup
Campari-infused watermelon ball
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake until well chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Campari-infused watermelon ball [or a lime wheel].
*Caronna tells me he basically filled a watermelon with a bottle of Campari and a bottle of rum.
At Mongoose Versus Cobra, Mike Sammons is offering a bottled Negroni for two, following a standard formulation using Campari, Carpano Antica vermouth and Monopolowa gin. However, he's also quite fond of a variation more suited to Houston's climate, which means bringing the temperature of the drink down a notch and lightening pretty much every component. "We do a version of the Negroni which subs Aperol for Campari and Dolin Blanc vermouth for the Carpano," explains Sammons. "We also add a dash of salt tincture. We call it the Daytime Negroni."
1 ounce Monopolowa Gin
1 ounce Aperol
1 ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1 Dash Salt Tincture
Stir all ingredients over ice, then strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a wide strip of orange peel. "It's clean, fresh, swift and totally perfect for hot Houston afternoons...especially if there's a pool somewhere nearby," says Sammons.
If you're taking your Watermelon-Campari Daiquiri or Daytime Negroni to a pool party (why wouldn't you?), you'll probably also want to bring snacks. We can help with that, too.
In addition to a cold-brew coffee version of the classic tipple, Common Bond is serving a few edible Negroni variants for your enjoyment. Enjoy your Coffee Cassoni (rosemary infused cold brew concentrate, Dolin dry vermouth and Cappelletti) with either a Campari macaron made with a Campari-white chocolate ganache, or a Negroni Entremet featuring Campari namelaka (a sort of creamy ganache), orange cake and vermouth-milk-chocolate ganache.
How about some ice cream to go with that cake? Christopher Huang over at Ninja Ramen has you covered. "Ninja Ramen is doing an Affo-groni for Negroni Week this year," says Huang. "Like an affogato, but with a scoop of sweet vermouth- and gin-flavored ice cream, and it will be topped with camperol (one-half Campari, one-half Aperol). It's the summer, and who doesn't like ice cream?!"
While you're enjoying a cocktail and a snack, don't forget that a portion of your tab is going to charity. Here's who you're supporting: