The Negroni is an interesting drink. In a perfect world, it’s a delicious marriage of bitter and sweet. But Campari has a flavor that takes no prisoners and sweet vermouth can be an acquired taste.
Are Negronis for everyone? Probably not. Are they for me, though? Everything’s for me! I’ve never met a flavor I couldn’t be friends with.
So on this Wednesday afternoon, I took my BvsB 8-winning bottle of Caskwerks Gin to Kevin’s house for a Negroni challenge.
In the blue corner we have Caskwerks Gin, a fine 90-proof gin from Tempe, AZ made of Portuguese juniper, orange and lemon peel, coriander, cinnamon, and hibiscus. I haven’t had it by itself yet (who has the time?!), but in cocktails, it seems to impart a nice sweet lemon flavor (while keeping the juniper bomb at a minimum). In my head, it should contrast nicely with the bitter herbal Campari, while hopefully evening out the funk of our rather inexpensive Martini and Rossi vermouth.
In the red corner we have Bombay Sapphire, an 80-proof gin also designed to not be heavy on the juniper. According to Wikipedia, it contains “ten ingredients: almond, lemon peel, liquorice (sic), juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb, and grains of paradise.” Also, it apparently is distilled in a carterhead still instead of a copper pot still, which gives “the gin a lighter, more floral taste.” I wouldn’t know a carterhead still if it hit me in the face though, so I have no idea how much it modifies the flavor.
1 oz gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth
Notes: We built this one in a Boston shaker with cracked ice, then poured it over ice in a rocks glass. Kevin apparently made one without ice the round before, and it was somewhat undrinkable. Campari’s a tricky bitter – you need ice to tame the wild.
First thing’s first: the recipe for this Negroni came from the back of the Campari bottle – and it’s not my favorite. In my opinion, it needs more gin, less Campari, and less vermouth (and probably a better vermouth than Martini and Rossi, but that’s my fault). So after the BvsB I checked Esquire for the David Wondrich recipe (he’s the source for all things cocktail), and his calls for 1 1/2 oz gin, 3/4 oz Campari, and 3/4 oz vermouth. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m positive it’d make a better cocktail.
Anyways, this BvsB started with the Bombay Sapphire Negroni, and it just wasn’t very good (again, the recipe didn’t help). It was bitter up front, went down bitter, and the gin flavor was completely overpowered by both the bitter Campari and the vermouth, leaving nothing but a mildly floral alcohol taste.
We quickly moved to the Caskwerks Negroni and had a better experience. The flavor was deeper, the sweetness gave it a nice mouthfeel, and the lemon-dominant flavor cut through the bitterness a bit. Again, the recipe made the Campari and vermouth completely overwhelm the gin, which shouldn’t be the case, but still, Caskwerks Gin made for a more enjoyable cocktail.
Once again, the Caskwerks Gin came ahead as the winner. It brought more citrus notes to the drink, mellowed out the bitterness of the Campari, and goes down with little alcohol burn. The drink still wasn’t one I’d serve to a friend, but it wasn’t the gin’s fault – Campari might be a little too proud of itself in its recipe.
Moving forward, I’ll change the recipe to make the drinks more enjoyable overall, but in this even environment, the better booze was evident.