«Negroni is magic. The magic created the moment a customer asks the bartender to change a cocktail and see this new drink become one of the restaurant’s most successful. It’s the best story to tell when it comes to cocktails.»
Among the most representative cocktails of Italian Dolce Vita, this year Negroni is 100 years old. Created in Florence between 1919 and 1920, legend has it that Count Camillo Negroni, a frequent visitor at Caffè Casoni in Via de ‘Tornabuoni, asked the barman Angelo Tesauro to alter his usual American, replacing the soda with gin.
Since then, Negroni has been the choice in bars throughout Italy and the world, accompanying generations and generations in moments of joviality and amusement.
To celebrate the cocktail, I went to have a chat with Mattia Pastori, an internationally renowned bartender.
«Bitter, Red Vermouth and Gin in perfect balance. Served with crystalline ice and a slice of orange. Aas for brands, I have no particular preference: guests decide, and they can choose what they want.» Mattia’s words resound in my head.
Before starting, a piece of advice for you: put on Spirito by Litfiba and continue reading with a glass in your hand. For your Negroni, prepare:
3 cl of gin
3 cl of Campari bitter
3 cl of red vermouth
Now I can continue.
I have an appointment at the restaurant Daniel, owned by chef Daniel, a friend of Mattia’s, “so Daniel can prepare one of his appetizers for me, something that will go well with my Negroni”, he tells me. When he arrives, in the late afternoon, the chef is already busy in his kitchen. He is waiting for a group that has booked all the premises. A strange thing for a haute cuisine restaurant, I think; not for Gualtiero Marchesi’s former pupil. However, he can prepare a perfect match for our Negroni: a Parmesan biscuit with watermelon, orange paste and timut pepper.
Mattia arranges the ingredients and tools of his craft. I am intrigued by his experience, I immediately ask him for an anecdote, obviously concerning Negroni. “One of my signature recipes was born during my experience at the Park Hyatt in Milan: The Professor’s Negroni. A customer always ordered Negroni with whiskey (specifically, Boulevardier) instead of gin, and he used to smoke coffee-flavored toscanellos between cocktails. When I went to the Mandarin Oriental I remembered this client and I wanted to recreate the complete experience with a drink, adding a hint of smoky flavour, which I managed to obtain by roasting coffee with a smoking technique. That is how Negroni del Professore was born.”
Everything revolves around the concept of smoking and the technique of smoking, he explains. For Negroni del Professore we need:
3 cl of Rye Whiskey
3 cl of Bitter
3 cl of Red Vermouth
Then mix in a mixing glass and serve in a tumbler with an ice cube. Finally, smoke everything with broken roasted coffee with a little help from a smoker.
«Vermouth and Sanbitter, since the dawn of happy hour, were the most consumed drinks.»
Every tradition carries with it its innovation, but Negroni as we know it has really touched different generations. Mattia explains to me that “it comprises only three ingredients, each of which is part of our history. We are talking about more than 150 years ago, when the Savoias, Italy’s royalty and the “influencers” of the time, consumed vermouth and Sanbitter as an ante litteram aperitif.
Gin, on the other hand, has always been that exotic ingredient that, then as today, is its own light. This is why, to this day, Negroni is always the most glamorous cocktail of the moment”.
And like all great icons, it is constantly revisited. Among the most appreciated, to name one, is Negroni Bianco, based on Bitter Bianco, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto and Vermouth Dry.
I am fascinated by Mattia’s world, I wonder how he approached mixology coming from Pavia, a city known for its wines rather than cocktails.
«1000 cocktails by Gino Marcialis, a famous Italian barman in the 80s. It is from that book that I learned my first recipe: a Between The Sheets, an IBA cocktail at the time.»
But how is a bartender formed? “The first job in my parents’ bar taught me the basics: time management, manual skills, the relationship with people, the importance of building a relationship with the customer.
At Al Pozzo American Bar, also in Pavia, I was confronted for the first time with the world of cocktails. Later, at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Milan, I learned the importance of hospitality standards; finally, thanks to the experience I had with Campari, in managing the takeover of the Camparino in Galleria, I learned to have a broader view of this sector and to be a complete manager“.
Chatting with Mattia I understand one thing in particular: drinking cocktails is an aspect of fashion that has undergone various evolutions over time and quite rapidly. In Italian culture, the art of mixology does not exist as it does in Anglo-Saxon countries, we are a people tethered to our land and its territory, where wine and a few other products are part of our centuries-old tradition.
«Drinking a cocktail today is a way to make new experiences, discover new flavors or rediscover scents discovered on a journey, relive a moment lived on the other side of the world.»
When Mattia started working, towards the end of the 90s, strong consumerism rather than the pursuit of quality was the word. Just think of happy hours with endless supplies of food and cheap drinks. Now, however, thanks to the new means of communication and Italy’s reputation abroad, we look to something more refined and precious. This is how mixology is taking root in our culture and is perceived with interest by consumers.
In your mixology, I ask, which ingredients do you prefer to use? Surely pink grapefruit, my favorite citrus, above all. I really like experimenting with aperitifs. The ingredient I appreciate the most is Rosolio di Bergamotto – Italicus, with which I created combinations inspired by tradition with a twist of innovation in different bars. However, I love all fresh fruit in general.
Last but not least, a fundamental value in this profession: hospitality.