Recent years have seen a resurgence of the Old Fashioned in popular culture, driven perhaps by it being Don Draper’s de facto drink. While to some this is a boon, to others this means searching for a different drink. A better drink. Or at least a drink with less baggage.
Enter the Negroni, a Gatsby-era cocktail that is as perfect on a summer day as it is in a darkened barroom. Introduced in 1919 in Florence, Italy, the Negroni developed a following in the 1920s and stands today as a sophisticated drink for a complex palette. It’s also simple – no muddling oranges and cherries and trying to decide what a “dash of bitters” means.
Equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari is shaken over ice and poured into an Old Fashioned glass over ice. The most complicated thing about the drink is cutting the orange peel for a garnish. Fans include Ernest Hemingway and Anthony Bourdain.
(Editor’s note: If you’re not familiar with Campari, get thee to the liquor store and buy a bottle of this amazing concoction. Technically a bitters, Campari has a long history and a secret formula. Bright red, it can be enjoyed over ice with a head of club soda, but is most often an ingredient in jazz era cocktails.)
If gin isn’t your thing, try the even more obscure (and possibly even more delicious) Boulevardier. Basically a Negroni with bourbon or rye whiskey instead of gin (we prefer the small-batch whiskeys from Wood's High Mountain Distillery, but you can use whatever's available locally), the Boulevardier takes the Negroni’s poolside crispness and exchanges it for the rich smokiness of an autumnal bonfire. Add a twist of orange peel (or if you like a sweet kick, a Luxardo cherry) and *kisses fingers*.
And if you're feeling adventurous and want to expand your palate, there's a whole world of cocktail bitters out there for you to explore. In fact, the original idea of a "cocktail" – as coined by American magazines in the early 1800s as the popularity of new concoctions rose – was a "stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters."
Historically, bitters developed first as medicinal tonics, and many of the brands on the market today began their lives as herbal remedies. Eventually, bitters became de rigeur as apéritifs (served before a meal to stimulate the apetite) or as digestifs (served post-meal to stimulate digestion).
Bitters are typically created by using aromatic herbs, barks, roots, or fruit peels. The ingredients are chosen for flavor, and historically they were concocted for their medicinal qualities.
Digestive bitters are typically consumed with or without ice before a meal, although some are used as cocktail ingredients today. Aperol, Campari, Jagermeister, and Amaro Lucano are some of the most well-known brands producing digestive bitters today.
Cocktail bitters, on the other hand, are more often used as flavorings in cocktails like the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan, and the Sazerac. Angostura, Peychaud's and Boker's are the most commonly available big brand bitters you'll find today.
If big brand bitters aren't your bag, you're in luck: Like craft beer and craft spirits, craft bitters has seen a surge in popularity. Brands like Fee Brothers, Dutch's Colonial Cocktail Bitters, and Bar 40 (with their outrageous Umami Bitters) have found a foothold as craft cocktails have taken flight in modern day speakeasies. For us, the best bitters out there come from the high mountain region of Colorado. Using home-grown herbs on their Poor Farm estate, DRAM Apothecary is turning out some of the best bitters money can buy.
We discovered DRAM while exploring Salida, Colorado. By using locally grown herbs and sourcing quality ingredients around the globe, DRAM has lead the charge for quality, organic, and all-natural bitters.
"Making real bitters requires times," said Shae Whitney, who owns and operates DRAM with her husband Brady Becker. "We like to say we do everything the hard way."
Many of the most well-known bitters on the market today use a variety of synthetic ingredients to achieve their flavors. But at DRAM, years of recipe refinement leads to months of flavor development.
"We're not going to cut corners," said Shae of DRAM's dedication to cocktail craftsmanship. "If we're going to be in this industry, we're going to be sure we're making a product we're proud of."
That attention to details has led to national recognition and a shelf-full of industry awards.
Whether you're looking for a new twist on an old standby or searching for new culinary terrain, we've got a couple recommendations – complete with recipes – below.
Like all of these classic cocktails, this one scales up easily for more people.
In a shaker, pour all ingredients. Shake hard for twenty seconds and pour over ice. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
This is where it all began – with the simplest of simple cocktails. If gin isn't your thing, or you're looking for a lower ABV, the Americano might be for you.
Pour Campari and vermouth over ice into a glass, add a splash of soda water and garnish with an orange slice.
This may be the perfect cocktail after work on a summer Friday. Light, bubbly, and super refreshing, this is the perfect balance of sweet and bitter.
Pour ingredients into glass over ice and garnish with an orange wedge.
As mentioned above, this is the Negroni for whiskey fans. If Negronis are your thing, try this out – you may never look back.
Shake over ice, then pour over ice into glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel or a Luxardo cherry.