All the Missing Negronis

1950C_Page_01

Above: the cover of Cinzano’s 1950 ‘Cocktail’ [sic] book.

I always tell students that the drink people call the Negroni might not be from Italy and the original name of the drink surely wasn’t “Negroni.” The original (and proper) name for the drink is the Camparinete Cocktail of the 1920’s. I have searched for drinks in Italian sources that are either essentially the same as the 1920’s Camparinete that you all call ‘Negroni’, or are the cup (or spritz) based on plenty of vermouth wine (but only slightly fortified by gin and Campari bitters) and a good shot of soda water in it and served on the rocks that appeared in Italy around 1950 as the Negroni and was the first drink to have that name. That is why it isn’t actually strange that a book Cinzano published in 1950 to promote their products contains neither the true Negroni Cup nor the older Camparinete Cocktail that fits the form of what people call ‘Negroni’ today. The book contains drinks that originated on both sides of the Atlantic. If there were a drink made with any amount of vermouth wine in called Negroni that was already popular on either side of the Atlantic, Cinzano would surely have included it. Plenty of drinks are in the book, but not the Camparinete or Negroni (in name or essence).

1950C_Page_05

Above: one of the many pages of the book.

“Dude, maybe it was a copyright issue.”

Dude, maybe it was space aliens. Where is the copyright? Where is the pre-existing advertising making use of it? Stop grasping at straws. It’s just not there. No Italian books available for scrutiny before the Cinzano book have it, either. The drink does come from around then, but the early descriptions are all by Americans ― famously Orson Welles in 1947. The full description comes in the 1950’s and makes it clear that the drink is based on vermouth wine with only a little gin and Campari bitters and has plenty of soda water in it. The fact that Orson Welles only mentions a few ingredients in the interest of mentioning how those specific ingredients affect the health is not proof, nor even a strong suggestion, that they are the sum total of the drink.

If you don’t know that the drink was first known as the Camprinete and that the drink first known as Negroni is nothing like what you think it was, that’s fine with me. If you fail to understand that the Camparinete (that you will still bone-headedly call the ‘Negroni’) drink is simply a cocktail, and of a very standard form (fancy by way of aromatized wine as a flavor-modifying sweetener, like both the Manhattan and Martini cocktails ― other than that it’s just a spirit and some bitters and chilling dilution), that’s also fine… but there is no “Negroni family” of drinks. I don’t really expect any fine understanding among the hoi polloi. But if you pawn the so so-called ‘history of the Negroni’ that is simply repeated as it is without anyone (seemingly) doing their own critical research in primary sources, you remain uneducated and your narrative is of an inferior, second-hand nature.

A Good Drink that is Also Laughable

htc-bourbon-lift-360x240.gif

I often chuckle while witnessing bar-tenders today mimicking advances in drink-making that were revolutionary in 1855 – and thinking them to be new.

One example is as using sugar syrup (instead of dry sugar) in true cocktails and stirring them cold through plenty of ice.

Today, bar-tenders imagine that applying the above methods to the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail improves it. They are right – but the improvement was already done within a few years of 1855. It was then that method for making the Whiskey Cocktail were changed to take advantage of pure water and ice suddenly becoming cheap and plentiful, allowing for simple syrup to be cheap and plenty of ice to be available for stirring with and straining from.

Modern bar-tenders, you’re almost there. All you have to do now to catch up with 1855 is to strain your Whiskey Cocktail just as you would a Manhattan Cocktail – and, for the same reasons.

Of course, if you don’t know the traditional meaning of the word cocktail, you probably are a little lost here. Come take my classes.

Suffice it to say that once the Whiskey Cocktail was made with sugar syrup and stirred with ice and strained into a goblet for a perfectly cold drink that would never get further diluted, the older, inferior way of making the Whiskey Cocktail produced the drink that after 1855 was called the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.

Yes, I am saying the the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (probably just “Old Fashioned” to some benighted readers) is inferior to the Whiskey Cocktail. Between 1860 and 1900, the Whiskey Cocktail, made the modern way and strained and served without any ice, was one of the most commonly-served drink in American bars. It was served more commonly during those forty years than the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail. What a shame that the inferior of the two is the only one that is easy to obtain in our own time.

Now modern bar-tenders are making the Whiskey Cocktail almost as good as it was in 1855 (if only they would stop serving it on ice) and imagining that this is something new and the product of sensitive consideration. It is laughable.

Likewise devoid of any traditional knowledge is the imagining that there is something new – down to giving it a new typological name – to the so-called Lift.

Truth be told, this type of drink goes at least as far back as 1883. An American bar-tender from then would look at the so-called Bourbon Lift and recognize it to be an especially-fancy reworking of the Bourbon Puff. If had I been the bar-tender that created it, I would have made clear through naming it that I understood American mixological tradition and history enough to call if a Puff – instead of making up a new name that suggests ignorance of tradition. I also would have understood it to be far too fancy to just call it the Bourbon Puff. I might have called it the Special Bourbon Puff or maybe the Bohemian Cowboy Puff. But a plain name for a fancy drink, combined with an obvious ignorance of American drink types (a consequence of the grasping overuse of ‘cocktail’), shrouds the publication of a very good drink in the mists of ignorance.

Giffard vs. U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Ignorance

Giffard CTS

I like and use Giffard products. But, as an Aspie, I am driven a little crazy that their excellent triple-sec Curaçao liqueur must be labeled, by decision of the ever-ignorant U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (a.k.a. ‘T.T.B.’), only as ‘triple sec’ — an adjectival phrase bereft of any noun — for the American market.

Giffard vs Giffard

This is like calling a shaggy, white dog just a “shaggy white.”

In the rest of the world, the label reads, in French, “Curaçao Triple Sec.” To translate that, we must also put it into English word order. It becomes, “Triple Dry Curaçao.”

The official product description in the Giffard USA website says: “A distillation of the finest blend of sweet and bitter oranges from the island of Curaçao.”

Duh, T.T.B.! That’s what Curaçao liqueur is!

This one from Giffard does happen to be of the triple-sec grade — traditionally containing between 250 and 350 grams of sugar per liter. It’s not wrong for those words to be on the label. But just calling something ‘triple-dry’ without saying what it is, is just wrong, and nothing less than the bureaucratic imposition of ignorance upon the rest of us by the T.T.B.

Not all Curaçao liqueurs are of the triple-sec grade.

Curaçao Liqueur Grades

Cointreau and Senior produce extra-sec Curaçao liqueur — having just 240 grams and 242 grams, respectively, of sugar per liter. Legendary, long-gone Cusenier produced the first extra-sec Curaçao liqueur in the early decades of the twentieth century. But it was never the only grade they produced.

CL006

CL007

Is there anyone who will try to assert that understanding the different, traditional grades of Curaçao liqueur is pointless? Is there no point in understanding varying levels of sweetness, bitterness and aroma? If we want to elevate the mixing of drinks, we cannot carry on in such ignorance of ingredients.

I imagine someone with more power than education at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau objected to the original label, saying something stupid like, “Which is it: triple-sec, or Curaçao?” [As you play that in your head, be sure to hear it by one of the dumb-jock-type characters so excellently voiced by Patrick Warburton over the years — Seinfeld’s Puddy, perhaps.]

That would be like asking about a red fire-engine, “Which is it: red, or a fire-engine?

Camparinete/Campari-Mixte Cocktails vs. the Negroni Cup

Not Negroni

Is the drink above a Negroni? It certainly is not. I can tell just by looking at it.

I see a lot of ‘study’ on the origins of ‘the’ ‘Negroni.’

When we take the name we have for a drink and project it onto mixers and recipes that never used that name for the drink, we are making the story about us and our notions.

That’s fine. But, it’s not good scholarship.

What actually happened is not that the mixers and namers of the very similar, both-1929-published, Camparinete Cocktail and Campari Mixte Cocktail ‘invented’ ‘the first Negronis.’ They didn’t use that name and would have thought it strange for anyone to suggest that they should. Their drinks have clear chronological priority over any extant evidence of any drink called ‘Negroni.’ Biographical data about any of the historical men with the name ‘Negroni’ is not evidence for the existence of the drink during any of their lifetimes. If I call a new drink tomorrow the Lincoln Cocktail… well, you get the point. We have to stick to the textual record. Here it is (you might want to click on the chart to enlarge it):

Camparinete Cocktail vs Negroni Cup chart

It is not the problem of the first mixers of the Camparinete and Campari Mixte Cocktails that the name of an altogether different drink from the 1940’s has been applied to their drinks.

Don’t be fooled by the superficial similarity suggested by the simple listing of ingredients between the Camparinete or Campari Mixte Cocktails and the Negroni Cup. Make either of the two cocktails and then make the cup and witness how different types of tipples can express the same liquors to rather different effects. [I don’t know… perhaps I’m just a super-taster.]

Camparinete Cocktail

Negroni Cup

This mentally-lazy lumping of all sorts of things together under the blanket misnomer of ‘cocktails’ is an intellectual crime that gets well-intended people to waste a lot of time trying to find the ‘original’ drink recipes for tipples as we misunderstand them today.

Don’t get me started on “the” so-called “Old-fashioned!”

Today’s Curmudgeonly Truth

Anyone who really knows how to cook will understand this analogy.

Teardrop Cocktail Lounge Bitters & Tinctures

A mass of bitters, false bitters and tinctures can be collected very easily and then conspicuously displayed at the bar. A lot of people who don’t know much about the making of drinks will be caught in rapt adoration of the sight. But, such an array is in no way a guarantee of mixological tradition — or even of the simple ability to make a good drink. This lack of correlation is just as real as the lack of correlation between the sight of a deluxe spice rack and any actual cooking skill. People who marvel at a spice rack also marvel at a battery of bitters. I trust that most of my readers are above such silliness.

Spice Array

What Punch Is

I have been asked what I mean when I say that most so-called ‘craft-cocktails’ are actually punches. This is what I mean:

What Punch Is

Samuel Johnson and John Ash give the most succinct and minimally-correct definitions.

Richard Dolby most explicitly states that balance is important. Think of that next time you hear a ‘craft cocktail’ bar-tender talk about always achieving balance in their ‘cocktails.’ They are surely making more punches than cocktails. [Harmony is important in true cocktails, but balance kills them.]

In the above, notice the general, historical understanding that the nature of punch derived from the combination of specific ingredients: sour, sweet, strong and weak. The fifth element in punches might be spices, citrus zest, or even first brewing tea in the water to be used. The fifth element seems to have become optional in punches by 1700.

None of the above sources make the bowl central to the definition of drink. In fact, they don’t even mention it! To define punch by the bowl is a modern gloss on the word. David Wondrich has suggested, against all historical sources, that the origin of the word was not from the Hindi word for ‘five,’ but rather from the English word ‘paunch.’ Wondrich seems to suggest that it was a reference to the fat shape of punch bowls. This is sheer, revisionist guesswork on the part of Wondrich – seemingly as a result of the typical modern assumption that service in a bowl was a unique part of the identity of punch at its beginning. When punch first enters history around 1600, other types of drinks had been made and served in large bowls for centuries already – even milennia. In fact, it was the default service for any drink for multiple persons – and since that’s the way people mostly drank, the bowl was the default service vessel for most tipples. The notion that around 1600, anyone would think the bowl was a unique part of a specific type of drink betrays an inability to actually understand historical texts in their own terms – and, therefore history, itself.

The modern gloss that punch is any large-batched alcoholic drink served in a bowl (or redefined in such silly words as, “large-format cocktails”) misses the fact that the Whiskey Sour, the Margarita, the Sidecar, and the majority of so-called ‘craft-cocktails’ pretty-much perfectly fit the historical consensus on what punch is. To those that ask where the water is in those drinks: think of the fluid-ounce, or more, that is added when they are shaken.

One might wonder why it is that so many of the truly popular drinks are punches. The answer is that the balance of sour, sweet, strong and weak usually makes for a tipple that almost everyone can enjoy – even those people who rarely find enjoyment in unmixed liquor or true cocktails.

David Wondrich has also stated that he cannot believe punch is originally from India – also against the historical sources. Wondrich is almost onto something here, but draws the wrong conclusion. To be sure, there is no hint of punch being made in India before the British arrived there. But, neither is there any evidence that punch was made anywhere else by the British before they started going to India. I suspect that punch was first made by Englishmen in India around the year 1600. I believe it was a result of the British proclivity (inherited from Greece and Rome) to flavor, dilute and sweeten alcoholic beverages — combined with the wealth of citrus they found to be constantly available in the Asian sub-continent.

It Bears Repeating

David Wondrich has moved on from the correct story (I believe — though he seems not to have understood the mixological reason) of why the American bittered sling was first called “cocktail.” He now prefers shoving ginger up horses’ asses (a trick to make them seem more lively for selling them.

The phenomenon of gingering is not connected to horses being called “cock-tail,” which appears in literature long before gingering does. The Oxford English Dictionary correctly, and simply, indicates that a cock-tail was a horse with its tail both docked (cut-short) and cocked up. This was done to mark a horse as being of mixed breed, even though it might have the qualities of a thoroughbred horse. All the way back in London’s Public Advertiser in 1758, one finds notice of a reward being offered for a missing “cock-tail” horse. Is Wondrich to have us believe that the owner just happened to shove ginger up the ass of a horse that he had no intent to sell the night it went missing? I find that laughable. In that same time frame, horses are described, sometimes for sale, as being “cock-tail” or “cut cock-tail.” If Wondrich were right that horses were called “cock-tail” in connection with gingering, it would mean that advertising a horse for sale in the 1760’s as being a cock-tail would be like telling someone you wanted to sell a car to that it had “sawdust in the transmission” (a trick in older cars to make a bad transmission run more smoothly for a while).

Another story surrounds a bit of confusing text from 1798 London in which a drink seems to be called cocktail. This has been suggested as a link to the better known American bittered sling tradtionally called cocktail. But, the same name for a drink has been applied many times to different drinks that had nothing to do with each other — often neither in essence or inspiration. When admiral Dewey was topical at the end of the Spanish-American way, at least two, totally different drinks where published bearing his name. The creators of each of these drinks were probably completely unaware of the other’s drink. There were actually several drinks called “Cosmopolitan” because of their array of ingredients from around the globe long before the more famous one came along that was named after the women’s magazine. Finding a common (non-genre-associated) word in the name of a drink is no proof that they are related to each other in any way.

In this post, I am dealing with the American cocktail drink, also known as the bittered sling, and why it would have made sense, mixologically-speaking, to an American around 1800 to call it a cocktail. Please read on.]

http://elementalmixology.me/2014/03/25/why-was-the-bittered-sling-called-cocktail/