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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.