There are many things happening in the world right now that are more important than Stanley Tucci’s Negroni technique. There’s a global pandemic, an American president encouraging his citizens to inject themselves with disinfectant and, as I write this, the independent grocer down the road from my house is being taken over by a supermarket duopoly.
But, it’s thanks to said global pandemic that I’ve had a lot more time to sit around and obsess over a video that smooth-talking American actor Stanley Tucci – best known for movies such as The Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia, Captain America: The First Avenger and Big Night – posted to his Instagram account.
The video, which sees him making a Negroni for his wife Felicity Blunt in their home, has garnered 885,000 views, more than 5000 comments, and has spawned a number of articles. Writers have pondered why watching Tucci make a Negroni is so hot (I mean, I wouldn’t say no if he asked me for a drink) and how his pronunciation of “Milanese” is spot-on (Sure, I’ll give him that; but bad news, Stanley: the Negroni was invented in Florence). Me? I couldn’t get past his loose-cannon recipe and technique.
I will admit that I am a recipe follower. If a chef has spent hours perfecting a method and concluded that stirring the ingredients in a clockwise direction three times while standing on one leg will produce the best results, then by Jove, I will follow those directions to the letter. So, when I make a Negroni, I follow the time-honoured formula that is so easy to replicate. I don’t understand why you’d even mess with it.
To make a Negroni you mix equal parts gin, Campari (or similar) and sweet vermouth. You swoosh it all around with ice in a glass, and that is it. That is part of the Negroni’s beauty – its simplicity. I think it’s also a benchmark cocktail: if a bar can’t master this simple, delicate drink, it’s hard to trust it to nail anything.
Tucci, though, has no time for things like tradition or following the rules.
“Mostly, people have Negronis on the rocks. But I think, actually, they’re quite nice [straight] up,” he begins, referring to serving the drink sans ice (although he does stir the ingredients in a shaker with ice so they are cooled).
I don’t mind that bit, really; it’s the next bit, and the bit after that where things start to unravel. Tucci adds a double shot of gin and – get this – one each of Campari and vermouth. Where is the balance? Why would you want your Negroni to taste mostly like gin?
And another thing: he reckons you can replace gin with vodka. Each to their own, sure, but the Negroni is a gin cocktail, not a vodka cocktail. It’s the sheer confidence with which he makes this declaration that really gets to me. He doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s going off-piste. I rather enjoy a Negroni made with whisky rather than gin – a drink that is commonly known as a Boulevardier – or a more herbaceous aperitif than Negroni. But it is duly noted that those are not traditional and not Negronis at all.
Then it gets worse: he reckons you could “lace” your vodka Negroni with gin on the top so you get the same flavour in your cocktail as using gin. I know, right?
Then, Tucci shakes the Negroni. In a cocktail shaker. Like it’s a Whisky Sour or an Espresso Martini. It took me back to a late London night when I decided to pop into the dive bar in Whitechapel (an area better known for its Jack the Ripper tours and curry houses than its outstanding drinking culture). At this bar they shook my Negroni. And, no word of a lie, it tasted like crap. The balance of flavours was all off and it was too watered down.
Then Tucci pours his “Negroni” into a dainty coupe glass (I’ll let that slide; if you don’t have ice in your Negroni, you probably don’t need a heavy-based tumbler as per tradition), and I’m back there, on that cracked-leather lounge in Whitechapel drinking that very average Negroni.
As you can tell, I have a lot of feelings about Tucci’s take on the Negroni. I feared my obsession was becoming irrational, so I reached out to one of Sydney’s best bartenders, Pasan Wijesena (owner of Newtown’s Earl’s Juke Joint and Enmore’s Jacoby’s). Far from being vindicated, it turns out he doesn’t share my disgust at all.
“Personally, I’d love to have Stanley as a regular at my bar,” he tells me. “Aside from seeming like a guy who would have a tonne of great stories, he obviously knows his booze and uses good stuff at home.
“I’ve always been the type of bartender to allow my customers to enjoy booze how they want it. I'll obviously have my own suggestions, but at the end of the day, if you want to add coke to your Negroni ... and you loved it ... and you keep coming back, then that’s fantastic. Bartending is 10 per cent drink making, and 90 per cent hosting.”
Wijesena does acknowledge, though, that adding vodka to a Negroni means it is actually no longer a Negroni – instead, it should be called a Negroski. “Gin adds a bit more complexity and marries the flavours of Campari and sweet vermouth. Vodka is a cleaner base and allows Campari and the vermouth to shine.
“As long as you don’t finger-stir it like a savage, then drink it however you like.”
Here’s how you should make a Negroni
30ml gin (preferably London dry)
30ml sweet vermouth
Sliver orange peel
Fill a glass with ice and pour in gin, Campari and vermouth. Stir until the outside of the glass is cold. Fill another glass with fresh ice and strain the Negroni over. Garnish with orange peel.
Can’t be bothered making your own Negroni? Here are some of the best Negroni deliveries happening around Australia right now.