Imagine. You’ve just finished work for the night and there’s about two hours until your favourite bar closes. You sling the door open, walk down the stairs and slide into a seat. There’s a golden light shining just in front of where you’re sitting, and in a minute it’s going to shine on a glistening, amber Negroni.
One of those bars filling late-night cocktail orders with excellent drinks is Nieuw Amsterdam, a bar-restaurant hybrid in Melbourne’s CBD. It doesn’t just offer a single type of Negroni, but an entire menu of them. “It was something I was playing with because it was a drink growing in popularity, and it is something I've always enjoyed,” explains bar manager Sean McGuire.
As well as the classic gin Negroni, there’s a mezcal iteration with a celery garnish; another with bourbon, Italian bitters and burnt rosemary; and Nieuw Amsterdam’s most popular style, the salted-caramel Negroni with cognac and caramel liqueur. “We garnish that with a toffee shard made from espresso and raw sugar, which we roll in salt,” McGuire says.
McGuire sees the Negroni as a drink that has grown beyond its origins. Once the go-to drink of the Italian aperitivo afternoon snack and drink tradition, it’s now a popular late-night finisher. “A lot of people come in after a long shift and sit down to sip on a Negroni,” says McGuire. “It's a drink you can sit on and sip. You wind down with it.”
McGuire says although it’s a flexible cocktail he thinks it’s best enjoyed with bold, rich food. “I really enjoy a Negroni with a dark-chocolate dessert. The orange and the chocolate work really well, and the chocolate rounds out a lot of the bitterness from the Negroni.”
McGuire’s other favourite Negroni food pairings are olives or a handful of dates stuffed with goat’s cheese. The more you experiment with the drink the more experimental your pairings can be. His latest twist, not yet on the Nieuw Amsterdam menu, is typical of his idea of the late-night finisher. Here is the recipe for McGuire’s still-to-be-named new cocktail:
“A Twist on the Negroni I've Been Working On”
For the French-oak-infused Tanqueray Gin:
Makes one bottle.
Approximately 22 standard drinks.
Bottle of 700ml Tanqueray Gin
Oak stave (available at most brew shops)
Char the outside of an oak stave with a gas burner or kitchen blowtorch. “The more you char the faster the oak has an effect on the spirit. Deeper char tends to give different flavours like smoke, leather and tobacco.” Place the stave in the Tanqueray bottle and leave for 14 days or until the gin has a slightly golden hue. “If you rest for longer you will get a deeper colour and more flavour imparted from the oak.”
For McGuire’s smoky Negroni finisher:
Approximately 1.8 standard drinks.
40ml French-oak-infused Tanqueray Gin
20ml Italian bitter
20ml sweet vermouth (McGuire recommends Maidenii)
Cut a thin slice of lemon, peel and remove any remaining pith. Set aside. Pour remaining ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a rocks glass. Place a large ice cube in the centre and garnish with the lemon peel.