It takes a special drink to impress Italian royalty, a famous actor, and to make guest appearances in films from Hollywood's golden era. But that's an honor owed to the Mediterranean elixir called Negroni. Singular for its paradoxical sweetness and bitterness, the noble drink's mysteriousness lures you into one taste after another.

It was its contradictory apéritif quality that caught the attention of old-time actor, Orson Welles, who said, "the bitters are excellent for your liver and the gin is bad for you. They balance each other." We could thank the botanicals in the Campari for that effect . . . if the gin didn't cancel it out, of course.

With equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, the Negroni makes for a strong, sophisticated sip with a fiery, red hue to add to its luster. No wonder James Bond preferred Negroni when he didn't want a martini; and while he was in Italy, it was casually mixed by Ernest Hemingway–a lover of drink as much as the written word.

But perhaps no one loved the drink more than the Count of its namesake; a man who allegedly imbibed up to 40 Negronis a day–20 when he was teetotaling.

Hot Shots:
Negroni is a riff on the Americano
Invented by an Italian cowboy
Originated in Florence, Italy
Count Camillo Negroni supposedly drank 20-40 Negronis a day

The Italian Cowboy

The Negroni's swank and quirks are representative of the man who invented it–Count Camillo Negroni. The man was equal parts sophisticated and a little wild. It might go without saying that any man who invents a cocktail is bound to be a bit of a partier, but there are degrees to everything–and Camillo Negroni's degree was higher than his cocktail's ABV.

Born to Count Luigi Negroni and Countess Sofia Rusca in Florence, Italy in 1868, Camillo wanted to branch out from his upper-crust abode and visit the States. But it wasn't enough for him to get a quick taste and head home, ol' Camillo went all Dean Martin on America when he became a Wild West cowboy.

He had a penchant for gambling, legendarily raking in $7000 at the race track one lucky day and throwing wild parties. He made a living as a rodeo cowboy while traveling the U.S. from the 1880s until 1908. By then, the Count decided to giddy-up back to Florence, but he still felt tied to his cowboy lifestyle.

A Chance Encounter

One day, a journalist named Bob Davis got lost in the Italian countryside with a driver who couldn't speak English, and apparently, Davis didn't know much Italian. In his irritation with the predicament, Davis stormed out of the car, abandoning his driver. After walking for a bit in desolation, he saw a man in the distance on horseback.

Cave Entrace

Count Camillo Negroni

When the figure got closer, Davis noticed the man's riding whip and saddle and thought, finally someone I can talk to!

You speak English, he declared.

You're tootin' I do, hombre. Count Negroni responded.

But it wasn't just the lingo and cowboy aesthetic he picked up. America's ways of knocking back the juice was slightly different from what it was in Italy.

During Negroni's time in America, he no doubt noticed that Americans liked to mix their drinks with vermouth–a thing Italians didn't want to do with the salubrious tonic. Any sensible Signor drank his vermouth straight-up.

But clearly the Count was receptive to American ways of life and he soon adapted to the vermouth mixes so loved by Americans. He even brought some of that influence back with him when he went to his favorite bar, Caffè Casoni.

Legend states that one day in 1919, he walked in and greeted his bartender, Fosco Scarselli, and sat down for a stiff one.

He was ready to order his regular, the Americano, but the cowboy wanted it a bit stronger, so he asked Scarselli to use gin in place of the soda–thus the Negroni cocktail came into being.

But is it really that simple? Of course not.

And the Patent Goes to . . .

If there's one thing that's hard to get a lasso on, it's definitive origin stories. But what would be the fun in just one story to tell?

Well, the story of Count Negroni is complicated by the fact that Negroni wasn't an uncommon name, although it had its roots in Italian and Spanish nobility. It became like Smith in America.

Well, maybe not quite, but it was common enough to muddy the waters of our origin story.

The one who complicates things happens to be a descendent of a fellow by the name of Negroni, and his ancestor also happens to be a Count (what are the odds?). He went by General Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni, and he probably had even more nicknames.

This Count has a more austere history than his contemporary in Florence. Pascal Olivier was legendary not for his wild parties and romps, but his military valor. He served in the French Army and was decorated by emperor Louis-Napoléon in 1870.

Cave Entrace

He undoubtedly had many tales to tell and many claims to fame, including his time spent as a prisoner of war and his admirable promotion to brigadier general. But was he also an amateur mixologist?

The second Count's descendent claims that he was the true inventor, having come up with the cocktail in Corsica before his death in 1913. It may seem possible since almost anyone by the name of Negroni could have been responsible for the drink. But what does the evidence say?

The problem with this claim, as cocktail scholar David Wonderich says, is that historical records prove that the date of its invention is 1919.

Scarselli and his son even attested to its Florentine origins in that year. Besides, a damning piece of evidence is that folks in Corsica aren't too sure about how to make Negronis, unlike their counterparts in Florence.

I’m of the opinion that we can let the dust settle on this issue and raise our Negronis to Florence's broncobuster.

A Stampede of Negronis

The original recipe is good enough that the Count drank 40 in a day according to his bartender–but the glass that was used back then was more like a shot glass (not that it's any less impressive).

But aside from the original, the Negroni lends itself to many palatable variations. In fact, it probably has among the highest numbers of variazioni, as Italians would say.

If you like the bitterness of Campari but want to soften it a bit, try adding a quarter ounce more gin for a mellower taste. But that’s just a start–there are numerous other ways to riff on the original, including using mezcal for a smokey effusion.

Or if you want to play up the sweet side, you can use bourbon as the main spirit and make one of the most popular variants–the boulevardier.

There's also a German version using bourbon and hazelnut liqueur called a Munich Negroni Western, a mildly sweet variant with notes of hazelnut–which, by the way, makes for a charming holiday drink.

But no matter what recipe you go with, your taste buds will be tantalized by the smoothness and strength of this apéritif. But we at Revelry recommend beginning your journey with the classic recipe and adjusting from there.

Like the rodeo-rider who invented it, the classic Negroni carries with every sip both nobility and true grit.

8 mint leaves
1/4 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces bourbon
Garnish: mint sprig
Crushed Ice

In a Julep cup or rocks glass, lightly muddle the mint leaves in the simple syrup.
Add the bourbon then pack the glass tightly with crushed ice.
Stir until the cup is frosted on the outside.
Top with more crushed ice to form an ice dome, and garnish with a mint sprig.
Enjoy. Yes, this is a requirement.