De Lijsterbes is a famous star restaurant in the little Belgian village of Berlare where master chef Geert Van Der Brugge composes culinary masterpieces in a cosy, laid-back atmosphere. Natural, healthy and approachable are the keywords of his concept. Fine dining is for everybody and so De Lijsterbes becomes an openminded food sharing community. Now, Geert knows that the best thing to accompany a beautiful dish is a wonderful drink, so the master chef decided to make one. His own home-made vermouth.
We like the rather atypical bottle design. It reminds us of the large medicine bottles in a pharmacy. The label is very minimal, at the back we can read some of the botanicals included in the vermouth. The label round the neck offers a serving suggestion, in this case: vermouth and tonic. Honestly not the first combination that sprang to my mind when I tasted it.
The nose is very herbal, medicinal almost, flowery and fresh. It reminds me of the smells you get when you’re running through the fields in spring time and especially at the forest edge where the meadows start or otherwise a very, very wild garden.
The taste has a distinct freshness, a pleasant and delicate tartness with the slightest hint of anise and a bit of ginger. It’s not sweet at all, well it has a certain sweetness, but far less than expected seeing the luscious golden, orange red colour of the drink. It has his own character and personality, which makes it difficult to categorise, it’s not sweet red vermouth, it’s not a ‘bianco’, it’s not exactly a ‘dry vermouth’ either.
Actually the first thing that sprang to mind when I took a sip was: “a refreshing, modern, dry Hippocras” with the slightest hint of wild honey and lavender even, but apparently there’s not a drop of honey in it. Also you’d expect the typical bitter tang of the wormwood, but it isn’t there. There is a bitter in it, but it’s different and we tried very hard to find out what it was, but after much ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ we had to ask Geert and the master chef disclosed to us that it was ‘rue’ (‘wijnruit’ in Dutch).
Now rue is a very fascinating herb so it seems. I had never heard of it before and had to look it up, what I found was very intriguing. Apparently it is the origin of the word ‘ruefulness’, which if I’m not mistaken means nothing less than ‘bitter regret’. It was very popular in ancient near eastern and Roman cuisine. In Istria and Italy it is used to flavour grappa, which is called ‘grappa alla ruta’. Also, it is the only medicine that could protect you from the lethal gaze of a basilisk!
Apart from that the herb was extremely popular in witchcraft and spell making. Probably because of the peculiar characteristic that the leaves and stem can cause an irritation which results in blisters when the irritated spot is exposed to sunlight. Cats hate the plant and take a wide circle around it. The Romans believed that this was also the case with werewolves. Harry Potter would love this herb, hell he probably drinks Lijsterbes vermouth as breakfast.
It really is a magical drink, wonderful aperitif. We love it pure over ice with a wedge of orange. We did try it with tonic and it was surprisingly good, but we believe some of the delicate herbal notes of the vermouth disappear under the tonic. We have made a particularly yummy Negroni variation with it:
We were invited into an old courtyard right in the centre of medieval Antwerp where Campari will open a new bar on May 5th called: Gaspare La Piazza Dell’Aperitivo. The moment we set foot in it, we fell in love with it. Tucked away from the commercial chaos of the city and her typical traffic infarct this courtyard offers the ultimate sensory experience of a relaxing aperitivo time.
And they take this quite literally, sensory experience, we mean. Professor Doctor Malaika Brengman from Brussels University VUB, was asked to turn the courtyard into a real Italian piazza of pleasure. So every flower, plant, colour, texture, sounds or scent you might experience is especially there to relax and re-energize you, all in Italian style.
Famous bartenders and Campari Ambassadors Jan Van Ongevalle and his daughter Hannah Van Ongevalle from The Pharmacy, Knokke, designed two Campari cocktails especially for Gaspare Bar and apart from that you can of course enjoy what is now definitely this summer’s drink: the Negroni and a refreshing Campari Tonic.
Also aperitivo is nothing without food, so antipasti will be plentiful! There will even be a shop where you can buy everything you need to aperitivo at your own place.
One more thing, when you’re in that courtyard sipping your Negroni, imagine that maybe – just maybe – 400 years ago the famous owner of this place might have sat at a table on that very same spot, discussing art and paintings with some Italian visitors…
Open from May 5th until June 30th, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Last year in Ghent, Martini's Caffè Torino was a happy discovery for many visitors. The Italian style aperitivo bar focussed uniquely on Martini's recent re-interpretation of vermouth accompanied by succulent side dishes. In short, a place where you inevitably lost track of all time, aperitivo all night long! This year, 30th of March until the 24th of April, Torino lands in Antwerp transformed into a total Negroni bar with a dozen different style Negronis. Torino's opening night features none other than Naren Young from Dante NYC (voted one of the 50st best bars in the world) behind the bar.
Ever tried Martini’s Rubino and Ambrato vermouth? You should, they’re great. Ever tried a Negroni made with one of them? You should, they’re great! If Negroni is your thing you should definitely visit Caffè Torino – the first Belgian Negroni Bar – this April in Antwerp, here’s why:
Negroni around the world
‘Play with time’ is one of Torino’s mottos and they take this quite literally. They asked 6 famous bartenders to produce their signature Negroni for the menu of Torino. 6 Famous bartenders from 6 different countries…6 different time zones even. Get the gist?
Including Naren Young from New York, you will be able to choose a Negroni from Chili, Bologna, Indonesia, Dubai or Singapore. I can’t wait to try a Negroni Singapori! It sounds delicious. The Negroni, of course, is a very versatile cocktail. So much, actually that we’ve asked ourselves before what really does make a Negroni, a Negroni? At the very least we’re expecting a lot of diversity. Now, apart from these great international Negroni twisters, there’s also part of our Belgian pride, happy to conjure the Count’s favourite libation.
Belgian Negroni of The Future
Since Torino lands in Antwerp, they have asked 4 Belgian bartenders to come up with their interpretation of “the future Negroni”. So each week the menu will feature one Belgian special made by: Charly Lebrun (Bistro Des Anges), Didier Van den Broeck (Dogma), Jurgen Lijcops (Bar Burbure) or Manuel Wouters (SIPS). I’m always very curious about “future” interpretations considering how much so many classics have changed over time. Indeed, as far as my opinion is concerned the current recipe we use today for a Negroni is definitely not the recipe from the 1920’s. So trying to project today’s recipe into the future is definitely not easy. Then again it’s always fun to see the bartender’s creativity gone wild.
There’s food and it’s Italian!
Now this should be self explanatory. It’s food and it’s Italian. If you don’t like Italian food there must be something wrong with you, really, you fell down the stairs and can’t chew properly anymore or something. You took on a hobby of fire eating and torched your tongue or it was removed by terrorists during your annual holiday in Aleppo. Italian food is great and if it only resembles a tiny bit of last year’s food, it will be delicious! Pulpo for the win!! Food is provided for by Francesco & Julia, two well known ‘Italo-Antwerpians‘!
That’s basically the only thing you should remember. It’s the opening hour of the bar, 16:00hrs. The adres is 2 Sint-Antoniusstraat, Antwerp. We’ll be there at the opening night, if you want to meet me, I’ll be the guy with 7 different Negronis and a plate full of pulpo in front of him, tasting and tasting and tasting and tasting… 😉 Yummy!
On a sidenote and for those interested, we notice a possible upcoming Negroni War here. In the red corner you have Gruppo Campari, being the first brand claiming the Negroni as their own and in the blue corner you now have Bacardi-Martini deducing (somehow correctly) that if an amaro can claim a cocktail, so can the vermouth in it! Please people, let personal taste prevail, so do we and nobody stops you from being a diplomat and make your Negroni with Rubino and Campari!
Another gin, you say? Yes, people don't seem to get enough of it. Which recently lead to the quaint discovery that our blood vaguely tastes of juniper. A fact which largely broadened our Transylvanian fanbase by the way. Read below why you should try Steam Gin.
Steam Gin is the product of a unique cooperation between the Van Damme Distillery, Small Distillery Lede and VDS Distillery. And there is at least one reason why we got interested in this gin, namely, it’s distilled by Van Damme Distillery…
Van Damme is better known for its fantastic genever products, especially Balegemsche Graanjenever 54° – aka: Ol’ Blue One. Further more Van Damme distillery is the only farm distillery left in Belgium. We used to have hundreds, but one law and two world wars later, there’s only one left. What’s so special about a farm distillery you wonder? Well, a farm distillery produces its spirits entirely by itself. So everything, except for the bottle, is made on the farm, beginning with the grain. They have one expression which sounds great in Flemish and much less so in English nevertheless I will enrich you with it: “Van de grond tot in de mond!”, translated this becomes: “From the soil to the mouth!”
So, apart from growing, malting and distilling their own grain they also have on or two other special features. They use open fermentation and next to this barrel stands a huge f***ing steam engine that heats their column! It dates from 1862 and was recently completely disassembled, cleaned, lubricated and put together again. It’s quite an impressive sight and it rolls like a dream! It’s also – like you might have guessed – the origin of the name for this gin.
We especially like the bottle design, which is custom created in Italy and took longer than Caesar to arrive in Belgium apparently. The scorched cork and pewter seal are nice details. We couldn’t fathom, though, the need, reason and meaning of the motto: “we saw taste”. It’s only later, when you turn the bottle around, and read the poem on the back of the label that you see the origin – yet still not the reason – for it. In light of good taste we suggest to dispose of the motto, as well as the poem.
The taste is rather good and well balanced, a nice mixture between flower and spice with distinct juniper and cardamom notes. It works very well in G&T with a grapefruit twist, less suitable for Dry Martinis, but surprisingly superb in Negronis and very nice neat over ice. So get steaming!
If somebody offered us a vermouth and asked: "Italian or French?" We would probably answer: "A Savoyan". Because that's where they come from, the former Duchy of Savoy. Or was it Germany? And more importantly where are they now? Italy, France? Yes and Spain and a little bit everywhere actually, even Belgium has one. Vermouth is fantastic, but instead of the countless classic cocktails you can make with it or mix it with tonic, you can also drink it differently.
In most cases, years ago, when you asked somebody what vermouth is, you got the following common knowledge: ” Oh well, erm… let’s see. It’s an Italian fortified wine with lots of herbs and stuff, very nice. Oeh! And the French have a drier, white version of it. Excellent in fish sauces.” Fast forward a couple of years and the more savvy, suave and sartorial bartenders twisted their waxed moustaches and added passionately – with twinkling eyes – the following facts: it all started in the thriving city of Turin in the late 17OO’s with a gentleman called Antonio Benedetto Carpano who made it into the wonderful aperitif which we all know today. The name comes from the German word “wermut” which means ‘wormwood’ in English and is one of the defining ingredients of the drink. Etc, etc, …
This is all true and you’re somehow fine with it, until after a while you realise something is gnawing at you. Why would an Italian spirit vendor name his invention after the French pronunciation of the German word for one of the herbal ingredients in it. He could have called it “Assenzio”, no? Or “Vino Assenzio”. He didn’t, this later came to be the name for absinthe, you know the drink made of… yes, wormwood (officially called ‘artemisia absinthium’). Still with me?
So, why did he call it ‘vermut’? Well, we’ll never know, but the following is how we like to see it. Mister Carpano didn’t invent his drink, but rather made a personalised version of an old drink, which stopped being popular 100 years earlier: wormwood wine. More specific: German wormwood wine (from the Habsburgian Holy Roman Empire).
Now, we all know that people have been putting stuff in their wine ever since the first man accidentally squished a grape, but apparently wormwood is something particular. This goes as far as Ancient Egypt if you please (probably to try to revive erroneously mummified persons or something), then centuries later the Greeks almost made a sport out of it and left us with a couple of dozens of recipes. Then the Romans put a “made in the Roman Empire” stamp on it, mainly by conquering Greece. After that everything becomes a little hazy in the Dark Ages only for it to come back as a perfect medicine against the plague and all sorts of intestinal parasites (“worms”) and stomach aches in general. This vaguely reminds us of the origin of genever, which was also conceived as a cure against the plague in a similar fashion, only instead of wormwood you’d put in juniper berries.
Anyways, fast forward a couple of centuries and we arrive at the pinnacle of popularity of German wormwood wine (16th – 17th Century) and of course the Holy Roman Empire by then was stretched to its outmost borders. Guess what was part of it then? Yes, the Duchy of Savoy, including Turin and Chambéry (home of Dolin).
Wormwood wine spread widely in those days. Of course, we had our own version in Belgium and the Netherlands called “Alsem wine“. ‘Alsem‘ being the Dutch word for wormwood. Now alsem wine made his introduction into the British Isles thanks to… yes, William III, the Dutch-born king who gave the English people gin, because they couldn’t pronounce genever. Now, funny fact, they also seemed to have trouble with something as simple as the word ‘alsem’ and quickly dubbed it ‘wholesome wine‘ (which is almost the pronunciation of the Dutch word ‘alsem’). Mind you, the British already knew wormwood wine long before William III and produced it under the name of “eisel”, but they must have liked and imported alsem wine too.
In short we can conclude that practically everybody made his version of wine aromatised with wormwood and by the 16th-17th Century people started fortifying it. Until the hype died in 1700. Upon which Carpano decided to relaunch it in 1786. And with great success! By the 19th century vermouth was all over the place and the aperitif of choice. But how did they drink it?
Well apparently a lot like they drink their coffee, in small amounts and standing up. On the go, as it were. We don’t really know the measurements, I think it must have been something between 3 and 6 cl, a Piedmont glass maybe (4,5cl). Later in bigger glasses when they started to add soda water. Actually I still like it this way, it is delicious on a hot summer afternoon. Soon they added drops of bitters to their vermouth and the Milano Torino was created when using Campari. Later the Americano arrived. No one really knows why they called it like that, but there are of course several theories.
it has nothing to do with Americans, but refers to the Italian word for bitter “amaro”. Personally I don’t think that this one is correct, because they would have called it “amaricato” and not Americano.
They called it so, because it was very popular with American tourists of those days. We doubt this one too, otherwise a lot of things would have been called “americano”, like an americano with extra cheese and olives or an americano bolognese, etc…
It refers to the style of the drink, “American style“, drink. The theory goes that it being a ‘mixed drink’, a cocktail, they called it an American style drink. We like this idea better, although we don’t believe it refers to the “mixed drink” part.
So we want to add a fourth theory: it is called Americano, referring to American style drink, because it was probably served in larger than usual quantities, adding soda and -more importantly- had ice (cubes) in it. Suppose they drank the first Milano Torinos like they drank their vermouth, meaning in small quantities, the amaro added literally in drops and later they would prefer their Milano Torino made the American way and ordered: “Milano Torino, Americano.”Which could later have been abbreviated to just “Americano”.
It also makes more sense when you consider the origin of the Negroni as being told by the inventor himself: Fosco Scarselli, in an 1962 interview. Fosco tells us that Count Negroni liked to drink Americanos and preferred them a bit stronger, “so I added a few drops (!) of unsweetened gin to his drink.” Then he continues: “the Count’s habit of adding a few drops of bitter (amaro) to his cocktail started to spread among the other customers and soon they were ordering ‘Negronis’.” Considering the ingredients of a Negroni we must conclude that his Americano must have been vermouth over ice perhaps with a splash of soda.
Anyway, ordering your “Savoyan vermouth, American style” in this day and age will get you nowhere, but you can say: “vermouth on the rocks with a splash of soda, please and an orange wheel.” And that’s how we prefer to drink it, sometimes even omitting the soda. You know vermouth isn’t just there as a mixing ingredient, it can very well carry its own. Do try it!
If you want to learn more about vermouth, be sure to read the excellent ‘Mixellany Guide To Vermouth‘ by Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller. More about the Negroni in ‘Negroni Cocktail, An Italian Legend‘ by Luca Picchi.
Today marks the start of the Negroni week. That means that until the 12th of June every Negroni consumed in the bars that volunteered for this project will result in 1€ going to a good cause. Besides that the Negroni is starting to burst out of craft cocktailbars and high end speakeasies straight into dive bars and even living rooms again. The Negroni is an immortal classic and we love it.
Gin has a day (World gin Day), Negroni’s got a week! An entire week from the 6th to the 12th you can drink Negronis and support a good cause at the same time. It’s perfect, I can imagine it already: “Now Honey, I know it’s 2 AM, but it’s for a good cause!”.
Seriously now, it i s already the fourth edition of this project and it is doing great. The first time in 2013 exactly 100 bars signed up to join the project, last year however in 2015, no less than 3533 bars joined the ranks. If you’d put that on a graph you’ll be painting the ceiling! 321.000 dollars were collected in 44 countries, that’s a lot of Negronis. And whether you believe it or not, our small country Belgium, scored number 5 regarding the number of bars joining the project. This week 41 countries registered to join and I am sure Belgium will do its best to toast to the “count”.
I don’t know how to describe it, but if you look at it (in Belgium), the Negroni is kinda like a “sniper hype”. A silent trend. Which is good, I think. More and more people know what a Negroni is and – very important – know how to make one. It has found its way into people’s houses again and that’s great. You know, you don’t have to be a tattooed master mixologist startender to make a decent Negroni. It’s actually quite failsafe: equal parts of gin, red vermouth and amaro (Campari). And it’s a modular recipe (aren’t they all) you can substitute almost anything with anything else as long as you have a spirit, amaro and vermouth combination. But it’s not like the G&T roller coaster hype, ordering you to put a plethora of extra botanicals in your glass, you know, as a “garnish”, or just making a f***ed up vodka and selling it to you as a gin that’s made for tonic… No, the Negroni hype is more modest, humble and real. It is a great way to dive into vermouths, amaro and the better gins.
Belgians like their bitter they say, I say Belgians like everything. True, we love cacao, coffee, endives, sprouts, hops and others but we're also quite fond of our stew and fries, our waffles, genever, anything really. But what if some crazy Belgians said to each other: "what would happen if we put all the bitter stuff we liked into one bottle"? At Biercée distillery they don't back down from a challenge and said: " we can do that"! The result is a delicious "wolf in sheep's clothing": Biercée Bitter, the first Belgian Amaro.
What’s an Amaro
“Amaro” means bitter in Italian and refers to a certain type of herbal liqueur, namely – you guessed it – a bitter one. Traditionally people drank it after a heavy meal to help digestion. And in Italy where your dinner lasts from 17:00 till 02:00 this can be very helpful sometimes.
Is it vermouth
Well yes and no. Amaro can be made with neutral spirit, brandy or wine. When it is wine based it’s often called amaro vermouth, as is also the case with any (very) bitter tasting vermouth. Also vermouth was often taken before dinner (or between) and amaro after dinner… or between dinners depends on how you look at it of course. This kind of culinary confusion quickly led to some very famous cocktails like the Americano, Negroni and others. Which means that vermouth in combination with an amaro is truly a wonderful thing.
Everybody knows at least one amaro
Yes, Campari, the red temptress. But there are countless others like Fernet Branca, Cynar, Averna, Aperol, Montenegro, Martini Bitter, etc, etc…
Fernet is actually kind of a subspecies of Amaro of which Branca is probably the best known.
The idea must have been something like, look we all like chocolate, coffee and endives let’s try to put it all into one bottle and they kind of nailed it. Apparently Belgian endives were a great inspiration and they really tried to make that work, but had to let go in favour of the fruitiness.
Let’s have a look at it. As always with Biercée the design is awesome, I think. Tall, slender bottle, nice art nouveau logo and a fun “see-through-the-bottle” back print (these are quite popular lately, aren’t they?). There are two different bottles: one has a wolf and the other a doe (a female deer). It’s really very nice, less is more, an elegant bottle, a relaxed bottle as it were.
Let’s have a taste. And here it starts, the aroma is not what I expected, it smells like candy and flowers, you know things you don’t associate with bitter. It makes you think of ‘sweet’. That is also what happens first when you taste it. You taste the red fruit first, raspberries and cassis, quite sweet. And just when you think what the hell is this, it changes. Citrus comes through and makes it more and more bitter and drier. Just what you wanted. The whole experience is a continuous flavour explosion in your mouth with a very long after taste. It’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, first deceptively sweet and then bitter and dry.
It works like a dream in Negronis, Americanos or Spritz. You can even drink it neat over ice with an orange zest. Cocktail Nation approved!
Sometimes you really start wondering, seeing these countless and delicious variations and dedications. Quite a few people go very extreme in this, resulting in the unavoidable remark by someone: “is this still a Negroni?”. The question is, if not, what is then? The answer must be sought in its clouded and disputed origin…
The official recipe as we all know, is equal measures of gin, Campari and red vermouth. And logically, when we want to make a variation on it we start to substitute one of the ingredients for another. starting with the spirit, this resulted quickly in rum Negronis, whisky Negronis, bourbon Negronis, cognac Negronis, genever Negronis and so on. Next we switch Campari for other amaro like Cynar or Averna or others. Finally we can change the vermouth from red to dry, white or even use quinquinas and other stuff. Also measurements can be adapted, bitters can be added, glasses can be rinsed, perfume or smoke can be used, etc, etc…
Actually it is fantastic to see this unbridled, unlimited passionate creativity of bartenders playing around with this famous Italian aperitif cocktail. Recently we had the BeNeLux Negroni Competition organised by Campari and even though the jury contained several very experienced Negroni lovers like Salvatore Calabrese en Mauro Mahjoub, it must have been very difficult reaching a decision on the winner (in this case Sofie Ketels from Sofie’s Living Room, De Panne, Belgium) seeing and tasting all these different and delicious Negroni styles. But what when you encounter a recipe in a book, that contains gin, sherry and Galliano; then you really start to wonder, delicious as it might be, is this still a Negroni? And if not, why then?
We recently had the good fortune to attend a workshop concerning the famous Negroni cocktail. The workshop was given by the great Luca Picchi from Florence, Italy, who wrote a hefty 221 pages about the Negroni, focussing on its origins. We like the book a lot, we read it with pleasure and delight and eventually learned and deduced something that was new for us about the origin of this iconic cocktail.
Most of you already know the origin of the Negroni, featuring the famous Count who gave his name to this delicious red libation. Camillo Negroni probably was indeed the original reason for the creation of the cocktail. There are pictures of him drinking (a Negroni?) at Casoni Café and more importantly there is a letter, dating 1920, from a friend who advises him not to drink more than 20 ‘Negronis’ a day. This letter actually proves that there was a drink in 1920 named after him. Much more interesting is: what’s in it and how did it became to be (the drink, not the letter) in the first place?
‘Americano’ is not just one cocktail
The popular story is that count Camillo, whilst in Florence, walked into Casoni’s and asked Fosco Scarselli, the bartender, to…erm…”spike” his ‘Americano’. Now here the story starts. I always thought the actual Americano cocktail was meant here and only to be told later that it was in fact a Milano-Torino, which was called Americano afterwards (so they say) due to the high popularity with Americans (tourists, businessmen or soldiers you can choose between stories here). In my strictly personal opinion ( I do not claim this to be the absolute truth, it’s just a theory of mine) he did not mean the actual Americano cocktail. Americano just means ‘American style’ and refers to the then rather new fashion of mixing one drink with others. That is what we’ve learned from Luca Picchi.
The drink in this case probably just being vermouth, which was extremely popular in Italy at that time. “American style” meant ‘the way they drank drinks in America’ and the very popular ‘American bars’ in Europe. So it probably has nothing to do with American soldiers after the war – a story which I hear and read frequently. Americano was probably nothing else than saying “cocktail” in Italian. You know, mixed with a spirit or amaro over ice. That information was new for me.
Vermouth as a base
So Camillo probably ordered a simple Italian vermouth (which was extremely popular by then), but had it made American style to strengthen it. The bartender, Fosco Scarselli, chose gin and then Camillo himself chose to add some bitters – Campari most probably – and thus created his signature drink. We deduce this out of an interesting interview with Fosco himself in 1962 about the Negroni. He (Fosco) literally says: “I added a few drops of gin to fortify the drinkand then the count had the habit of adding a few drops of bitters“.
Eventually other guests at Casoni were curious and also ordered an Americano ( meaning, I think, as much as ‘vermouth cocktail’ or just ‘cocktail’ in general), Negroni style. And so the birth of one of the most famous cocktails in history came to be. I think the story is very credible knowing that the count spend more than seven years in the USA in the exact ‘golden age of cocktail making’ before he came back to Florence and ordered his drink. Also, the vermouth back then, was served in small liquor glasses (about 1 or 1,5 oz), which explains the “drops” of gin and bitters and the sentence in the letter that warns him not to drink more than 20 of it each day. Also when you consider his words, he says he adds two things (gin and bitters) to something he didn’t mention. Something so obvious that he needn’t mentioning it and I think that’s vermouth.
And the story of Gaspare Campari who made his famous red amaro “americano” to make it more palatable and trendy for the Milanese high rollers at that time is a different story that eventually converged into the Negroni drink. The theory makes sense, I think, also considering the way Negronis are made today. By which I mean all the variations on it. What really defines a Negroni? Is it the gin? Surely not, it is the first thing they replace by something different. Is it Campari? Although most Negronis are made with it, it can also be made with other bitters and even though chances are high that the first one was made with it, we’ll never know for sure.
So actually it’s two different kinds of Americano coming together: one being gin + vermouth, the other being: amaro + vermouth. Of which the common element is the vermouth. In the end it gives us our answer to the question as to what defines a Negroni. In my opinion it is – very simply like the recipe says – a combination of spirit, vermouth and amaro. May you break this rule and create something else? Sure! Can you call it a Negroni? Well, it’s a free country, so you can call it whatever the hell you want, as long as it tastes good. Because, no matter how many Negroni “families” you create, the real Negroni will always be remembered as equal measures of London Dry, Campari and red vermouth.
Speaking of Negroni families… how about the other count Negroni? You know, General Pascal Olivier de Negroni, which one of them is the real Count? Well, why does one of them have to be fake? It is perfectly possible. A letter written by Pascal mentions a vermouth cocktail which was received well by the other officers. Perfectly possible, although it would be interesting to know more about the ingredients.
In the end it doesn’t really matter who invented the drink, eventually somebody somehow would have come up with gin, Campari and red vermouth. You know, I prefer ‘countless’ Negronis over Count Negroni, any time.
World Gin Day...what does that mean? Honestly, I have no idea, except that it is close to Father's Day. Let's abuse the excuse to tell you something more about 3 gins currently in my drinks cabinet.
All those Days, I don’t get it. There’s mini skirt day, bra less day, international talk like a pirate day,… ridiculous! Some even fall on the same day. So when you meet a topless woman in mini skirt, humping towards you on a wooden leg screaming: “yaaarrrr!”, you should ‘high-five’ her instead of sending her back to the mental institution where she came from. Anyway, enough ramblings, let’s talk gins.
Star Of Bombay
Newest child of the Bombay family and a star it is! Vamped up to 47,5% ABV this baby gives a whole new dimension to the Bombay range and opens up interesting possibilities. Lots of juniper berries going on here (a tad too much, maybe? Is that possible in a gin?). Then again, I’m glad it has juniper berries and stands out proudly to defend it amongst some “flowerbeds” which call themselves gin today. I know, taste is personal, but I don’t like drinking from a vase.
Speaking about vases, I really like the bottle of Star. It has that statuesque, art nouveaux, roaring twenties thing. It reminds me of the old crystal decanters granddad had. Bombay always has very nice bottles, immediately recognisable with it’s distinctive blue colour. Star does well in a G&T, but also makes a wicked Dry Martini and a splendid Negroni. Or you can make an old style aperitif drink with it, that befits the bottle: 3cl Star Of Bombay, 3cl Noilly Prat, 1cl Kummel. Stirr well and strain in prettied glass. Add lemon zest as a garnish.
Ah, the famous black bottle that stood at the beginning of the gin resurrection. Successfully surfing the neo-retro wave and adding the cucumber bar circus together with healthy dose of Monty Python influenced imagery turned this gin in a high-hitting glory story. In my opinion it opens the door for the new generation of softer floral gins.
Although I prefer the stronger “junipery” gins, I always had a sentimental soft spot for Hendrick’s. Can’t really say why, it’s probably the Python attitude…
Hendrick’s is fine in a G&T and don’t be afraid to add some cucumber if you like, although I prefer a citrus oil and zest. The cucumber thing is older than you think and a very English thing (try a Pimm’s Cup with cucumber and ginger ale, yummy!). I wouldn’t try a Dry Martini with Hendrick’s, but I do like a Fizz with it. Try 5cl Hendrick’s Gin, 1,5cl lemon juice, 1cl simple syrup and 1cl Hendrick’s Quinetum, add slices of cucumber and some strawberries, top up with soda and enjoy. A delight when it’s hot outside.
FG 20-3 Flemish Gin
One of the first Belgian gins, FG 20-3 is the gin from my hometown Aalst, distilled by De Moor distillery. It is heartwarming to see how much modesty and passion was put into this product (every product they make actually). I love this gin, not only because it is from my hometown, but because it is so beautifully balanced. Nothing is out of place, nothing is overpowering and still it has a distinct taste. Made with a little bit of malt wine, if I’m not mistaken. This malt wine is extraordinary good, the heart of their beautiful genevers. My favourite however is their ‘Dirk Martens Korenwijn’. This special genever is sheer bliss and was used recently by Jurgen Nobels in his winning cocktail of Diageo World Class Belgium 2015. Every high end cocktail bar in Belgium has at least one De Moor product and even star restaurants like Pure C or The Jane.
– no less than 7,5cl of FG 20-3
– 2,5 to max. 3cl of Noilly Prat dry vermouth
stir passionately between 45 and 47 seconds and strain in antique champagne coup, add citrus oil and zest as garnish.
It seems that our national spirit is slowly gaining a great deal of (re)appreciation in the States. Every self respecting cocktailbar in America is dusting off that specially reserved place on the backbar for the Queen Mum of all gins. In fact they want it so much that they are starting to make their own.
It is not surprising that this beautifully rich and malty spirit is getting more and more attention in the US, after all they imported 6 times more genever than gin in the 19th century. Famous barchaeologist David Wondrich tells us that London Dry style gins weren’t distributed in the States before the 1890’s. Which leads us to the safe conclusion that every gin recipe in the glorious 1862 edition of Jerry Thomas’s cocktailbible was made with either Genever or Old Tom Gin. In the 1887 revision of Thomas’s book the gin types are specified with the recipes: 8 call for Old Tom and no less than 12 ask for “Holland Gin” or “Dutch Gin”, which is the very practical American way to pronounce “Genever”.
Why so much Genever, you ask? Well it has been a very (if not the most) popular tipple in Europe for centuries and also, if you remember, ‘Old New York’ was once called ‘New Amsterdam’. No need to explain that the Dutch colonists and sailors of the VOIC (Dutch East India Company) brought with them their precious Genever. And the sweet mother of gins became part of Manhattan’s imbibing culture up untill the 1890’s.
So what we see today is kind of a REdiscovery. And it needn’t not to baffle us, considering contemporary cocktailrenaissance happening globally for the last 15 years. Where cocktailians, bartenders and barchaeologists are passionately dedicated to rediscover anything ancient and old, but definitely booze related. So it is not quite unlogical that after gin they start to glance curiously at Gin’s old progenitor.
And some of them didn’t leave it to curious glances, but gladly jumped into the haystack with the Queen Mum Of All Gins. Loving her so well that they are starting to make their own. A fact which we preceive as a little dash, since we did our damnest best to protect our Genever i.e. with an AOC and lots of laws (in very short: it is forbidden to produce – or at least call it genever – outside of Belgium and The Netherlands). We are starting to doubt the use of an AOC if you can bypass it easily by calling it “Genever Style Gin”, or “Geneva Gin”, but it’s indeed probably cheaper to make your own. Although in The Netherlands and Belgium Genever is cheaper than most gins…
Anyway, here are two of our favourite Genever based cocktails:
The Dirk Martinez
Named after the Humanist philosopher Dirk Martens – personal friend of Erasmus and Thomas Moore – who introduced ‘printing’ in the Low Countries. Also the name of a very fine Genever from my hometown.
6cl Dirk Martens Korenwijn Genever
3cl Red Vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula)
1 or 2 dashes of Orange Bitters
1cl Luxardo Maraschino
Stirr over ice and strain into pre-chilled antique champagne coupe, garnish with orange zest.
The Malty Contessa
Basically a Genever Negroni, but instead of it being the famous Count Negroni’s favourite tipple, it became the Malty Contessa.
3cl Red Vermouth
Build up over ice in a rock’s glass, garnish with orange or lemon zest.
And we leave you to your booziness with the following:
In our own opinion when you would compare every modern crafted London Dry to this: