Boozy and bitter. No, I’m not describing anyone in particular, but rather one of my favorite cocktails, the Negroni. The classic recipe for this cocktail is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. While a truly perfect cocktail as is, the Negroni also lends itself beautifully to variations.
Lately I’ve become enamored of barrel aged gin, which sounds like a terrible idea but done with restraint, it’s actually terrific. You get the sharper botanicals and citrus notes but with a mellower edge. A good barrel aged gin retains freshness that is so key to gin, but picks up nuances of spice from the barrel. Watershed Distillery takes their Four Peel gin, which contains lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit peel along with juniper, cinnamon, allspice and coriander, and they age it in bourbon barrels for at least a year.
On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio I met Alex Chien, one of the top bartenders in the Midwest and something of a gin aficionado. He’s also the bartender for Watershed Distillery and the one who introduced me to their bourbon barrel aged gin, so I asked if he could help with my annual Thanksgiving drink—a play on a Negroni. In his Negroni variation, Chien replaces London dry gin with Watershed’s bourbon barrel gin and swaps Lustau sherry for the traditional vermouth. As he explained to me, “Watershed Distillery's Bourbon Barrel Gin is perfect for Negronis because the time spent in barrels has brought out an earthier grit and a touch of sweetness which contrasts well with Campari's bitter orange tones.” Like I said, boozy and bitter.
East of Jerez
Courtesy of Alex Chien
1 ounce Watershed Bourbon Barrel Gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Lustau East India Sherry
Because the Negroni is all liquor, there’s no need to shake it, just pour and stir and serve over ice, though you may want to add a tiny splash of water. Garnish with orange peel.
Disclaimer: My thanks to Alex Chien for the recipe and advice, and to both Watershed Distillery for providing a bottle of their bourbon barrel gin and to Campari for the Campari (for which there is never any substitute).