Last week the upper classes celebrated Negroni Week. Some view it as a charitable effort hijacked as a global marketing campaign by the makers of Campari, the key ingredient in the bitter aperitif. Others, a celebration. During negroni week, bars have negroni-related drink specials and promise to donate some fraction of the profits made on the sales of those drink specials to a noted charity.
The negroni happens to be one of my favorite drinks. I love the bitterness of the thing without of the bite of, say, a Manhattan. It was time to perfect the thing at home. With a little advice from my friendly neighborhood overpriced liquor store I came up with a bitter combination that delights and refreshes.
Now of course it’s important to recognize our starting point: the classic negroni. One part each of gin, dry vermouth and Campari. But any self-respecting bartender will tell you Campari is some American crap with lots of food coloring. Sometimes you’ll see something called an “aged negroni” on a cocktail menu but I have never had much luck with one of those. Instead of drinking an elderly negroni, replace your vermouth and Campari with something a little more nuanced. Quinquina instead of vermouth and Grand Poppy instead of Campari. What is quinquina? It’s a bitter wine in the vermouth family. Best described by Serious Eats, “Whereas the prime herbal component in vermouth was traditionally wormwood, in quinquina, it’s quinine, and in americano, gentian.” Americano is another herbal aperitif wine. There’s a stunning quinquina called War and Rust, available at Duke’s Liquor Box in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. You’ll see the snazzy label that initially captivated me below.
Our second substitution is Grand Poppy for Campari. This “bitter liqueur”is made from actual poppy flowers (no, it’s not an opiate), peppercorns, artichokes and bunch of other wish mash that makes it just ever so slightly botanical. St. Germaine, this is not.
The poppy flower has always been special to me. Poppy is what I called my grandfather. He passed away when I was still in elementary school but my memories of him center almost exclusively around infinite games of 10-card gin rummy. I don’t remember if he drank but if he did I bet he would love one of these.
The Poppy Negroni
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