Bobby Heugel's Weekly Cocktail: The Negroni
The most foreign taste to our nation's collective palate is undoubtedly bitterness. Bitter foods and drinks have fallen out of favor over time as we have become increasingly accustomed to sweeter flavors through our overindulgent consumption of sodas, candies and mass-produced foods. In other countries, bitterness is more revered, and liqueurs such as Campari are almost considered mandatory aperitifs. Drinks like the Negroni are the antithesis of the apple pucker martini, and while apple-less green sludge continues to fly off of American shelves, a shift in our collective palate from sweeter drinks to more authentic, and often bitter, flavors seems imminent.
One need only look at beer trends in the United States to notice a growing preference for bitter flavors. The micro-beer community's intense enthusiasm for Indian Pale Ales (IPAs), a style of beer that features large amounts of hops, creating an extremely bitter character, shows that Americans are interested now more than ever in flavors that challenge us. "Hop-heads," as IPA aficionados are commonly referred to, and others who are drawn to bitter flavors are potentially the biggest Campari addicts, but even the two-liter Diet Coke giant in slippers perusing the ice cream at aisle at your local Wal-Mart is a potential Campari lover.
If you were to give your everyday NutraSweet junkie Campari, he'd surely describe it as the worst thing he'd ever tasted. This is because most Americans unfamiliar with bitter spirits and liqueurs have likely never tasted anything like this. But while it may initially seem counterintuitive, this intense off-putting flavor is exactly why drinks like the Negroni are so alluring - nothing else tastes quite like them. It might take a few drinks, but continuing to order cocktails with Campari is the best way to become less shocked by the bitterness and more interested in a flavor that most Americans have unintentionally neglected throughout their lives.
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist. This cocktail is also frequently served on the rocks; it's up to you.
Campari was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, who used 60 ingredients to craft this timeless liqueur. While the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, Campari is made from various herbs, barks, spices and citrus. Until recently, the bright-red color of Campari was sourced from carmine, a once common food-coloring agent made from cochineal beetles; today it is an artificial dye. Aside from the Negroni, Campari is a cocktail staple that is also used in cocktails such as the Americano and the Old Pal - all drinks that any bartender who values cocktails and keeps fresh vermouth should be able to make correctly - so feel free to explore.
All this talk of beetles and strange Bollywood beers probably isn't the best way to encourage the common American to step outside of the box, and the near certainty that Campari novices will hate their introduction to the spirit isn't the best sales pitch. Remember, however, that we live in a society that exposes us to a very limited range of flavors, least of which is bitterness. The most important part of exploring cocktails is to always drink what you like. Sometimes, however, it is important to examine why we enjoy something and challenge ourselves to explore other flavors. That being said, if you decide to try Campari for the first time, please don't start with a Campari neat. Give the Negroni a shot.