The Confusing History of the Negroni
To celebrate Negroni Week here at Cocktails For You we decided to dive into the history of one of the most celebrated drinks of the modern era of cocktails - The Negroni! Loved by Italians everywhere & now enjoying a renaissance all over the world as the trend lean towards Aperitif style drinks everywhere. Although there is a definitive story being marketed by the likes of Campari with regards to the definitive Negroni origin story as well as recipe as is with anything before the World Wars you need to take it with a pinch of salt. We traced the inter webs on most information about the infamous Negroni & found a fantastic piece by Alex Hecht debating the history. Let us explore...
Debated Origins History tends to split itself in two different directions when it comes to the founder of the now modern classic & specifically gravitates towards two very specific figures - Count Camillo Negroni, or General Pascal Olivier de Negroni de Cardi, Comte de Negroni. The first account is supported by anecdotal evidence. The second is … also supported by anecdotal evidence, but heavily supported by a direct confirmed descendant of Pascal de Negroni.
Camillo Negroni In 1892, aboard the steamship Fulda, a Florentine named Conte Camillo Negroni arrived in the United States at the port of Ellis Island. His provenance as a count is up for debate, as was his job: accounts of Count Negroni as a banker, cowboy, and prominent riverboat gambler are well known in the bartending world (despite their dubious veracity). Supposedly, Count Negroni entreated local bartender Fosco Scarselli (of the now defunct Caffé Casoni) to strengthen his beloved Americano by replacing the soda with gin and serving it short, instead of as a highball. Very little evidence exists to support Count Negroni’s claim to his (supposedly) eponymous cocktail, but another Florentine, Lucca Picchi, in his book “On the trail of the Count: The True Story of the Negroni Cocktail” references a letter from 1920 wherein one Frances Harper of Chelsea writes:
My Dear Negroni: You say you can drink, smoke, and I am sure laugh, just as much as ever. I feel you are not much to be pitied! You must not take more than 20 Negronis in one day!
Not exactly a convincing story. There’s one more bit of evidence in Count Negroni’s favor, but we’ll get to that later.
In recent years, a verified descendant of the Negroni family, Noel Negroni, has built a case for his ancestor’s founding of the cocktail, citing the lack of a Count Camillo Negroni on the Negroni family tree, Noel states that the cocktail’s founder is in fact General Pascal Olivier de Negroni de Cardi, a Corsican by birth, who was born in the island’s Castle of San Colombano in 1829. Pascal Negroni’s life is significantly more interesting than Count Negroni, as Pascal was a bona-fide cavalry officer and decorated veteran of the Franco-Prussian War.
Pascal Negroni joined the French army in 1847 at the age of 18. In 1870, at the age of 41, Pascal led the charge of the cuirassiers in the Second Battle of Reichshoffen, also known as the Battle of Wörth. For his gallantry at the Battle of Wörth, Pascal Negroni would be decorated on 20 August 1870 as an Officer of the Legion of Honor. Pascal Negroni was a prisoner of war for several months later in the Franco-Prussian war, and would eventually be promoted to brigadier general in 1884. Pascal enjoyed a 44-year career with the cavalry, was appointed a Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1889, and retired in 1891 at the age of 62. General Pascal Olivier de Negroni de Cardi, Comte de Negroni died in 1913.
Prior to his service in the Franco-Prussian War, Pascal Negroni was posted as base commander to Saint Louis, Senegal between 1855 and 1865. Thanks to the preservation efforts of Noel Negroni, a letter from Pascal to his older brother Roche reads: “…Incidentally, did you know that the vermouth-based cocktail that I invented in Saint Louis is a great hit at the Lunéville officers club?” While this quote in and of itself is by no means conclusive, other accounts from pharmacists and barmaids in Senegal mention a French Army captain who spread the gospel of the Negroni throughout Dhakar. Some accounts even suggest the cocktail was a labor of love between Pascal and his wife, to celebrate their marriage. Unlike Count Negroni’s claims, these appear to be mostly grounded in reality.
The one consistency in the Negroni debate is that there are gaping holes in the arguments of both sides. Count Negroni’s case is supported by his Italian heritage, and the fact that Campari, precisely one third of the Negroni cocktail was not invented until 1860 (e.g. midway through Pascal’s deployment in Senegal). However, no record of the Negroni in its current form existed until the 1950s, so who can really say?
What’s not up for debate are the cocktail’s proportions. The Negroni is simple, easy to mix, and served up or on the rocks. It’s one ounce of London dry gin, one ounce of sweet vermouth, and one ounce of Campari. Always stir it, and garnish it with an orange peel. It’s a bitter cocktail, but Orson Welles famously said of the Negroni “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.” So drink up.
I mentioned earlier that I feel it’s the perfect all-season cocktail, and I stand by that. A true Negroni is a perfect pre-prandial cocktail. It whets the appetite and excites the palette. Its cousins, the Negroni Sbagliato (literally Wrong Negroni) and the Americano, the former with champagne instead of gin and the latter with soda instead of gin, are perfect brunch cocktails. The Negroni is light enough to drink in the summer, but has enough of a backbone to sip in the winter. Keep it over ice to refresh you when it’s warm; serve it up to warm your body when it’s cold.