Monday, September 22, 2008

Enter -- The Negroni (Dun, Dun, Dun!)

Campari and I have an understanding -- It doesn't bother me, and I don't talk about what a bitter old hag it is. I am by no means a bitterphobe, but Campari has always struck me as living in its own special land of exquisite bite. This isn't the sort of thing that would normally bother me, as I'm of the belief that one doesn't have to like every single spirit out there (whole categories like, say, Gin? That's another thing entirely). Unfortunately there is the little matter of the Negroni. Lauded by legions of fans, this drink has been recently popping up seemingly all over the place as being a thing of beauty.

Being a great believer in the alchemy of drink, I decided that I was clearly missing out on something, and began a program of occasionally dropping by one of my trusted watering holes to see what the fuss was about. I was universally disappointed. The bitterness was almost dirt like in its apparently liquid rage, and I was glad to be done with each one. What puzzled me the most was that I knew I wasn't being served poorly made Negronis. I was, after all, at the parlors of some of the best mixologists in San Francisco. Eventually I decided that it must be some sort of defect in me, and decided to let it go.

Enter -- Duggan McDonnell (Dun, Dun, Dun!) -- A couple of nights ago I stopped by for a drink, and as the night wore on mentioned was the Negroni. He declared it (surprise!) one of his favorites, and I admitted to hating it. He fixed upon me a snazzy gaze, and made it quite clear that once my martini was finished he would be making me one. It wasn't long before I was staring at a drink I didn't expect to enjoy at all. The first sip wasn't as bad as I was expecting, but the bitterness of the finish was unpleasantly overwhelming. Seeing as I was raised up right, I decided that I would clean my plate as it were, and finish the drink.

A couple more sips in, a strange thing began to happen. The bitterness began to fade, or I began to no longer notice it as much, and I started to taste the nuances of the orange and gin. Somewhere around the halfway mark, I began to see the latent magic in the drink. There was, I realized, something there there. As I finished it I wasn't quite the total convert, but many a crack had been placed upon my armor of dislike.

I am left with an interesting question -- Did I give Duggan a leg up on the other bar tenders by telling him up front that I hated the Negroni, and Campari? Was it to his advantage in so far as he was able to craft what could be considered an entry level Negroni to ease me into the drink by being more selective in what particular Gins and Sweet Vermouths he used? Only time will tell as I am re-igniting my quest, and there will be more Negronis testing my tongue.

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