If you're drinking in Cleveland this week, you may notice an abundance of sweet vermouth, orange twists, and vividly red cocktails at the bar. It can only mean one thing: Negroni Week is upon us.
Negroni Week is an international charity event sponsored by Imbibe Magazine and Campari. From June 5 through 11, bars all over the world (including here at home) will be slinging Negronis — and several variations on the gin-based drink — to raise money for charitable causes. Numerous Cleveland bars will be featuring Negronis in their classic form, as well as ones with contemporary tweaks and twists.
Cocktail bars like The Spotted Owl, Bar 32, Society and Griffin Cider House will be participating, but so too will a few less obvious places. The Black Pig in Ohio City will roll out a menu highlighting cocktails blended with Ohio-made Watershed gin. Quintana's Speakeasy in Cleveland Heights has a drink called "What the Duck" that features duck fat-washed sherry in place of sweet vermouth, and another that replaces the gin with pisco, a popular South American spirit. Provenance at the Cleveland Museum of Art will be pouring the curiously named BLT Negroni, consisting of gin washed with bacon fat, tomato, sweet vermouth, and caraway seed Campari.
For those who make frequent visits to Coquette Patisserie, the University Circle cafe known for its Parisian-style interior and beautiful pastries, it should not be a surprise to see that Negronis will be featured prominently this week. Since opening, owner Shane Culey, with help from bartender Robert Joyce, has cultivated a cocktail menu that proudly features drinks built around amari and other bitters.
"We make them all the time," Culey says of the Negroni, the boozy, bittersweet and brightly hued drink comprised of equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and gin. "It's not even on the menu; the Campari is just always out."
Complex in flavors but simple to build, the Negroni's 1:1:1 ratio of sweet, bitter and boozy components makes it endlessly adaptable. Modern bartenders will often swap out one (or all) of the standard ingredients to create a fresh twist on the early 20th-century classic. Common permutations include the Boulevardier, which swaps in bourbon for gin, and the White Negroni, which uses white vermouth and a colorless amaro to keep the drink clear.
Over at Coquette, the team has crafted Negroni variants using aperitifs like Lillet and Suze. The Trident, for example, swaps out the gin for aquavit, another herbal liquor, and features Cynar, an artichoke-based amaro, instead of Campari.
Despite the drink's complexity and bitterness, Culey feels the Negroni is a fairly approachable drink for amateur imbibers.
"You're not getting your sinuses blown out by bourbon," he says. "There are layers of flavor, some sweetness." And as patio drinking season dawns on Cleveland, the drink's fruitiness and brightness make it a boozy but agreeable summer selection.
"Robert's crafted a beautiful menu around highlighting aperitifs the way the [traditional] Negroni highlights Campari," says Culey.