Two things I jump: bandwagons and the gun.
Bandwagons: Ever since the New York Times ran a story in late December about the upswinging trend of barrel-aged cocktails — pre-mixing a large batch of an all-liquor tipple, like a Manhattan or a Martinez, then setting it aside for a month or more in either a glass vessel of some kind or a genuine oak barrel, preferably one that’s already been used to age something else — I’ve been all like gimme gimme I wanna I wanna. I even can brag my very own used oak barrel; Sean won a three-galloner from Tuthilltown Spirits in upstate New York (purveyors of Husdon Whiskeys) at their Facebook Fan Appreciation Day over the summer. (I originally misunderstood Sean’s e-mail informing me he won the barrel. I thought it came with three gallons of bourbon inside it and told everybody so. That was embarrassing.)
I set my plan in motion on Sunday, starting small: A three-serving batch of Negroni put up in a handsome crystal flask. Why Negroni? Well, they’re also cusping lately, and I don’t know them very well. They’re equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari — and yes, I admit, Campari has never ascended to the personal-pref top-shelf of my imaginary inventory. But I wasn’t afraid or nuthin’. I’d tackled Cynar; I could surely manage a suavely made Negroni. Also, the Negroni’s got a great history: Circa 1920s, Italian count Cammillo Negroni (Enrico Palazzo!) asks his favorite bartender in Florence to man-up his Americano with a shot of gin.
The gun: So here it is, five days past Sunday, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I popped open my Negroni flask, poured a long draw into one of my martini bowls, threw in a hastily made orange garnish, and… hey, yum! The leathery bitterness of the Campari is still the dominant taste, but with edges sanded down, corners rounded, and aftertaste proving to be a most pleasant, lingering diversion. There’s still plenty left in the flask so we’ll see if I can make it to a full week, although it already feels like an unopened Christmas present just taunting me forever on end.
Stock sweet vermouth
Optional club soda
Orange slice or peel, for garnish
All Negronis are made with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, one ounce of each per cocktail. Adjust your measurements accordingly to make a large, aged batch.
Stir all alcoholic ingredients together briskly (in an ice-filled mixing glass, if drinking immediately). Pour into a cocktail glass or, to age, a glass vessel or a barrel.
OK, first off, if you’re barrel-aging: As the NYT story notes, you must pre-treat your barrel by soaking it with water in a bathtub. This seals up the joints. Otherwise, when you pour in your cocktail ingredients (through a funnel, natch) they’ll eventually start to seep out.
Second, some say there’s technically a difference between a Negroni and a Negroni Cocktail, the former including a splash of club soda and an orange slice garnish, as that hews to the precursory Americano recipe, the latter being what many cocktail aesthetes have turned the Negroni into, making it entirely with liquor (and hence, only an orange peel to garnish). To my taste, the former’s more summer-suitable and refreshing, the latter more winterrific and contemplative. The good news is, no matter which you choose to drink, the Campari leaves its mark on your palate in equal measure. (Drinking a Negroni around a bunch of more hardcore Negroni Cocktail tipplers? Feel free to talk up the quixotic Campari flavor as much as the big boys.)