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Negroni Week Is Upon Us — Here Are 3 Ways to Celebrate 

click to enlarge Negroni shots! - KILLIAN OLIVER
  • Killian Oliver
  • Negroni shots!

The Negroni. I want to say I was quick to latch onto this libation, but I would be lying. And I'm a horrible liar. Though my counterpart will argue the drink's merit, and how nuanced it is, and what not, an adequate Negroni is hard to come by. Other than in the hands of professionals, a Negroni is hard to swallow and can wreck your palate just as well as a IBU-top-heavy IPA. No, thanks, I'll pass. 

But I am open to variations, and I'm open to parties. Tonight's Paws and Bras Negroni Party at Paper Tiger (2410 N. St. Mary's St.) starting at 7 p.m. sounds like something Negroni-naysayers can get into. Hosted by Elisabeth Forsythe, bar manager for Paper Tiger, and Killian Oliver, bar manager for Whiskey Cake, the night will feature variations on the classic including Aviation Gin and Cinzano Negroni Jell-O shots, and a bra-uction, with bras designed by local artists Castro, Amanda Bianchi, Angela Fox, Denise De Glopper, Bryan Duff, Cassie McCloud, Chris Conde. Entry is $20 and includes Negroni-inspired 'tails along with bites by local chefs with proceeds benefitting the Animal Defense League and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

But if you're about that bitter life, Negroni Week will continue through June 12 with 40 local bars participating and donating to their charity of choice. Find a complete list of where to enjoy a Negroni at— JE

click image it's a classic. - FLICKR/FRANZ CONDE
  • Flickr/Franz Conde
  • it's a classic.
1:1:1—it’s a formula for a classic, three-part cocktail of which the Negroni is king. IMHO.

But it’s not just my opinion. The Negroni was one of the first old-timers to be revived in the current cocktail awakening, and so popular has this blend of gin, Campari and sweet Vermouth become, that the drink now has its own week: June 6-12. Sponsored by Imbibe magazine and, not surprisingly, Campari, the bitter Italian digestivo/aperitivo, the event, some proceeds of which go to local charities, is codified in 10 cities (in Texas, Austin is the only one officially sanctioned), but actually takes place all over the country. Get ready to celebrate.

But not necessarily with drinks that hew to the party line. Many of us have already tampered with the proportions a tad (I happen to prefer less vermouth and more gin). And some (sorry, Campari), have even played with the other ingredients. One such non-conformist creator is Olaf Harmel, now celebrating an event of his own.

Harmel helms the bars for the Smoke folks, and his new fiefdom, Ash, in the basement of Smoke on Commerce, has just opened. I sat down with him at the streetside bar a week before Ash’s opening and talked Negroni. On the spot, he came up with two new drinks and then made for me the Summer Negroni that will be on his opening list. That list, by the way, is uniquely formatted, and deserves a detour. Designed to read horizontally, it has beer at its heart but pairs each brew with wines, shots, house-made cordials, cocktails and small bites, all of which are expressly designed to go with each other.

“It’s a full, eating and drinking and eating experience,” says Harmel. “You can even take a shot and drop it into its corresponding beer for a kind of Boilermaker.” (He is quick to mention that he doesn’t expect everyone to do it all — though those with designated drivers might give it a shot. As it were.)

Back to the neo-Negronis. The first to appear before me was the following, heretical mix of blended scotch and violet liqueur. Harmel didn’t yet have a name, so let’s call it The Vivian, one of the many monikers for the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian legend: “I am illusion and the world seen through a glass.”

¾ ounce blended Highland Scotch such as Famous Grouse
½ ounce Campari
3/8 ounce crème de violette (he used Rothman and Winter; I have Mathilde so would use that)
¾ ounce Carpano Bianco vermouth
1/8 ounce lemon juice or more to taste.

Stir with ice in a mixing glass, strain into a rocks glass filled with the largest cubes you can muster.

The chocolate version contained white crème de cacao, the usual Campari and Carpano Bianco, two kinds of sherry and tequila. It tasted good to me. But then I got this text later: “I just perfected the chocolate Negroni and you would like it. I’m going to save it for one day, way down the road, when it’s a forgotten thing. Then it will appear magically before you and give you a subtle smile.”

We’ll apparently all have to wait. The Summer Negroni, meanwhile, can now be had at Ash, and as it contains two specialty liqueurs, one of which is melon, we are probably best off tasting it there while dreaming of chocolate.

click image COURTESY
  • Courtesy
Straying entirely from the classic formula is a Negroni Bianco concocted by Valentino Lucio of Dorcol Distilling Company (1902 S. Flores St.); of necessity, he uses the distillery’s Kinsman apricot rakia, which recently earned 92 points and Best of Category in the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition. Again, I get to invent a name.

Bianco e Piccante
1 1/4 ounces Kinsman
1 ounce Suze
1 ounce Lillet
1 bar spoon spicy simple syrup (see note)
1 small serrano slice

Add Kinsman and serrano slice to mixing glass and lightly muddle pepper. Add remaining ingredients and stir with ice. Serve in tumbler over ice.

Note for spicy simple syrup 1:1 ratio sugar to water. Add two Serrano peppers and one habanero pepper. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let chiles steep for 20 minutes. Let cool. Strain and store in fridge.

Lucio also does a smoky Negroni that is best tasted at the bar as it requires a smoking gun — emphasis on the smoke, not the guilt. — RB

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