Negroni: The Count’s Cocktail

The invention of this popular drink is down to Count Camillo Negroni  

© Shutterstock

The invention of this popular drink is down to Count Camillo Negroni

The invention of this popular drink is down to Count Camillo Negroni  

© Shutterstock

Pascal Olivier de Negroni aka Comte de Negroni: apparently, he was quite a cad – a free spirit, adventurer, soldier of fortune, gambler and hedonist who liked to drink till dawn. 

We have this bon vivant to thank for the cocktail that bears his name, an indispensable staple in bars from Anchorage to Adelaide. Made with Campari, gin and vermouth, the Negroni is one of the most popular drinks since the invention of the bar stool. Here is how it all came about. 

Precursors

Unlike that of many other cocktail classics, the origin of the Negroni can actually be traced rather well. Long before the Negroni, there was a drink in Italy called Milano Torino, a simple mixture of Campari and Amaro, a kind of herb liqueur, served on ice with lemon zest. It was probably American tourists who demanded that Italian bartenders adapt this drink. Americans like to drink soda, and so it is possible that the Milano Torino gave rise to the Americano, a mixture of Campari, vermouth and soda. This drink is considered the forefather of the Negroni. 

It is here that the capricious Count’s involvement starts. Legend has it that one night in his favourite bar, the Café Casoni in Florence, he whispered to bartender Fosco Scarselli, somewhat bored, that he should make an Americano for adults, because he found the one he was sipping tiresome. He just needed that extra kick in his Americano. 

The Momentous Invention

Scarselli met the Count’s challenge and hastily reached for gin instead of soda. A momentous decision, for it was the birth of the Negroni. Campari, vermouth and gin, that was it, a simple but ingenious and potent mixture. To make the newly created drink even more different from the Americano, he garnished the whole thing with an orange slice instead of lemon zest. 

 

Original and Iterations

Scarselli's classic Negroni was subsequently changed and adapted a million times. One of the most famous variants is the Negroni Sbagliato, which came about by pure accident too. According to tradition, a bartender mistakenly ("sbagliato" means "wrong") reached for the sparkling wine instead of the gin bottle – and once again a cocktail was created by chance that would later become world famous. 

Dissolute Existence

All this goes back to a man who had a colourful past, described in the book Sulle Tracce del Conte. La Vera Storia del Cocktail Negroni by Picchi Luca. According to the book, Camillo Negroni was born near Florence in 1868. After military school, he is said to have led a decidedly dissolute existence which led to severe financial hardship. Countless love affairs only added to the turbulency. 

Trouble and debt led him to flee Florence and emigrate to America where he devoted himself to gambling. He was able to buy a Canadian cattle farm with his winnings. In 1912, he returned to Florence, his reputation still ruined by his earlier conduct. Nonetheless, he did create a killer cocktail on that fateful night in 1919 with his order to bartender Fosco Scarselli who later verified the story. Count Camillo Negroni died in 1934, but his potent legacy lives on.