The History Of The Negroni
The familiar origin story for the Negroni, and the official story by the company that owns Campari, is it was invented in 1910s Florence, Italy, by Count Camillo Negroni. The issue with that is the only person documented to have that name was an Italian American Immigrant named Camillo Negroni, who immigrated to the United States in the 1890s. Camillo Negroni died in 1926, which could work, but it feels like a stretch. The descendants of the Negroni family that have laid claim to being the inventors say after much research that it was not Count Camillo Negroni but Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni who invented the Negroni. The problem with this story is Pascal Olivier de Negroni passed in 1913. The other issue with the family’s evidence to back this up is a newspaper clipping from 1980 saying Pascal Olivier de Negroni invented the negroni in 1914. So who knows? Both of these stories sound a little too good to be true to me, and after looking into this stuff for years, I have found that most of these neat and tight little stories are often made up.
What I find very interesting and maybe more telling about the origins of the negroni is the oldest reference I can find is from the 1951 cocktail book “Bottoms Up” by Ted Saucier. It’s not in Savoy, Cafe Royal, Trader Vic 1947, McElhone never mentions it, Embury never mentions it, Meier never mentions it. No one. There were not really any Italian cocktail books during that time. Still, the French and English bartenders who published were very aware of the cocktail scene in the rest of Europe, and none mentioned a negroni. Even published American bartenders who were aware of new cocktails in Europe never mentioned it. The official 1945 Chicago bartenders union book of standard recipes bartenders should know does not mention it. I went down my list of authors who were good at documenting and preserving cocktail history, and it was not till Ted Saucier in 1951 that I could find any mention of a negroni. For reference, the earliest boulevardier and Old Pal recipes are from the early 1920s. Another telling sign is how Saucier cites the negroni recipe in his book. He lists the recipe without citation for common and well-known cocktails, but for unique and new or less known recipes, he cites who provided him with the recipe.
Saucier provided four different negroni recipes. One from New York, two from Rome, and one from France. Both Italian recipes have soda water and look more like Americanos with a shot of gin added. The French recipe is mostly vermouth and has angostura bitters. The only one that looks like the Negroni recipe we know today is the American recipe. In the 1954 book King Cocktail by Eddie Clark (He took over as head bartender at the Savoy after Craddock), his Negroni recipe resembles the Italian ones in Saucier’s book. In the 1955 UKBG (United Kingdom Bartenders’ Guild), They used the negroni recipe that resembles the American one in Saucier’s book. From this point on, every negroni recipe I found is that one.
I’m not saying the Negroni is American or that the Campari company has the history wrong. Personally speaking, though, I always found the Negroni to be an odd Italian cocktail. It doesn’t fit the drinking or eating culture of Italy. It feels more at home as an American or, even more so, as a British Cocktail. The Negroni recipes in Saucier’s Book submitted by Italian restaurants feel Italian to me. I also think they would not be well-liked in Italy, and traveling American or British customers would request Negronis made in the New York style. I also find it interesting that there was not a mention of this cocktail till the 1950s, and the earliest evidence that Mr. Negroni invented it during WWI, comes from the 1980s. Here is my personal take on how the Negroni most likely originated.
In my opinion, the Negroni was most likely invented in Italy during the mid to late 1940s. New cocktail recipes spread fast, so it’s not unreasonable to think this made its way to the rest of Europe and the Americas in just a couple of years. Through an overly alcoholic American filter, the negroni was modified to be just gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. The soda water was removed, and this became the version most Americans knew and liked. When traveling abroad, this is how Americans requested the cocktail to be made, and in a few years, the American variation became the dominant recipe. This feels more right to me and better resembles how recipes evolve. It’s not as neat a story as “Mr. Negroni walked into a bar and ordered a Negroni,” but the true ones usually are not.
Some popular variations of the Negroni are:
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