As we tumble into the coziest of seasons, embracing bitter and sour notes can make the sweet things in life taste even better. Which may explain why the Negroni is having a bit of a moment, slowly edging out the Old Fashioned as the most popular slow sipper. Its inherent bitterness brings a welcome element of surprise.
Keith Mrotek, who oversees the beverage program at P.S. Steak, attributes the Negroni's popularity to our evolving palates. "Our parents liked sweet drinks and garbage; our grandparents liked bitter things and booze," he says. "The same goes for coffee. Parents liked dark roasted garbage; we wanted to experience acidity and flavor."
At Mr. Paul's Supper Club in Edina, cocktail maestro Nick Kosevich uses a hint of coffee-type flavor from chicory extract to balance both the sweet and bitter in his New Orleans-influenced Negroni, resulting in a crowd-pleaser that would be particularly lovely paired with brunch.
Invented in Italy in 1919, the sunset-colored Negroni is traditionally a mix of Campari, gin and sweet vermouth, served with a twist of orange. Variations on flavor come from playing with each element: Change the gin to something with more salinity for an almost savory beverage, or swap in a fruitier bitter for a breezier crispness.
P.S. Steak bartender Kara Smith, who has built a reputation on creating alluringly bitter drinks, has noticed the uptick in Negronis, too. "Bitter drinks are becoming less underrated," she says. "People have come to respect and love drinks like Negronis and Aperol spritzes — even Americanos or a good old shot of Fernet."
Three to try
$13, 510 Groveland Av., Mpls., psmpls.com
The Negroni listed on the bar menu hews closely to the classic using gin, Campari and a Spanish Rojo vermouth aged in rum barrels for a distinctive sweet back note. This one is perfect for those just dipping a toe in the Negroni waters and is an ideal predinner sip to jump-start your appetite. For those who are avoiding alcohol, P.S. Steak has a fantastic nonalcoholic version as well.
$12, 4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., (612) 866-3334, thebungalowclubmpls.com
The Negroni at this cozy Longfellow spot is served crystal clear with a giant ice cube that glints in the dim lights. Made for a friend of the bar that needed a tannin-free sipper, its base is 45th Parallel's Midwest gin that has the slightest hints of cardamom and coriander mingling with the juniper. Combined with Luxardo Bitter Bianco and a little Dolin Blanc vermouth, it's as crisp and clean as a fresh snowfall.
Mr. Paul's Supper Club
$16, 3917 Market St., Edina, mrpaulssupperclub.com
The base of this smoky, bittersweet beverage comes from Botanist gin infused with its proprietary chicory-coffee blend. The botanicals mix with the earthy bitterness from the chicory and coffee to give this drink a strengthened backbone. The snappy, bitter Campari and the chicory are friends made in back-bar heaven, and the sweet vermouth rounds out the edges and mellows it all to a comfortable sipping level.