Joe Fell keeps his trousers on at Obic’'s negroni masterclass, sampling a number of classics as well as a mozzarella and Parmesan infusion
It was the count himself who suggested drinking no more than two negronis as part of an aperitivo. If not, as Loris Contro, the colourful host of Obic’'s negroni-making masterclass, so aptly put it, at the end of the night 'you will look down and go “Oh, where are my trousers?”'
The classic negroni was created in 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni asked bartender Fosco Scarselli to stiffen his normal Americano by substituting soda water for gin. The drink has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late, with masterclasses and negroni festivals cropping up in major cities all over the world.
We started off with a relatively tame Americano (made from equal parts vermouth, Campari and soda water), as well as a selection of Italian cheese, cured and dried meat, bread and pesto. Ahead of my first-ever negroni, I appreciated the warm-up, a slight descent on to the bitter slope.
The negroni is traditionally mixed from equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. The Campari, whose ingredients include wormwood, gentian root and orange peel, accounts for the unique bitterness of the classic negroni, as well as its orange colour.
Loris insisted, in contrast to the hordes of online articles claiming to present the absolute negroni recipe, that the ingredients and flavours of a negroni would work in any measure, depending on your taste. If the Campari is too much at the start, a dash of salt will help to take the edge off the bitterness. The secret, he said, is more in the stirring (and never shaking), allowing the ice to melt to bond together the contrasting flavours.
There's no doubt that Loris is in the right profession. The flavours of the drink danced around my mouth in a delicate yet powerful way. Swilling it across the tongue allowed for a differentiation of the sweet and the bitter in equal part, until the initially unpleasant medicinal bitterness of the Campari became a welcome and refreshing counterpoint to the sweetness of the vermouth and salt of the Italian food.
Alcohol-fuelled laughter and snippets of Italian conversation from my fellow guests filled the air in the small room as I battled with the evening's third offering: the violin negroni. This negroni variant, originally from Austria, substitutes gin for rum, as well as a couple of drops of Mozart Chocolate Bitters.
In preparation for the final round, I must confess that I gave up on the rum-based concoction in front of me fairly quickly. While the sweet aftertaste of chocolate was a fun change to the previous two citrus drinks, the rum seemed to overpower the vermouth completely, not complimenting its sweetness as it had done with gin.
Loris, agreeing with me, commented that 'you can try as many twists as you like, but at the end of the day you'll always be back to the classic.'
Nevertheless, his pi’ce de resistance was pretty dramatically off the beaten track: a mozzarella and Parmesan-infused gin-based negroni, finished with a dash of tomato water and a salami and olive garnish. While on paper this sounds horrendous, it was in fact a near-unanimous favourite at the table, a perfect marriage of Obic’'s three-times-weekly imported cheese and Loris' mixological mastery. The infusion took the acerbic twinge out of the Campari, giving the drink an almost creamy texture.
The evening was scheduled to finish at eight but conversation soon took over as guests recounted their first experiences of heavy spirits, as well as anecdotes from life in Italy. It wasn't until gone nine that I peeled myself away from the scene – and I'm pretty sure I was wearing my trousers.
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