I am always looking for new twists on old ideas. Whether it is in technology, music, the kitchen, you name it, I love the way things evolve as people experiment and bring their own inspirations to the conversation. If I am being generous, I could say that I adore innovation, but it might be more accurate to admit that I am a sucker for a gimmick. I just love that little twist that changes our approach or perspective. A little novelty is all it takes for me to go off running toward some new experience. So, with a nod toward our ever continuing education, won’t you join me now as we stand and make the Negroni de Nubes.
Obviously, this is a riff on Anthony Bourdain’s favorite cocktail, the classic Negroni, a drink I always wanted to love but just could not quite connect with. Somehow in the past year I have, inexplicably, found myself craving that bitter devil Campari. I am not sure when I suddenly decided to embrace the bitter, but looking back at the myriad Negroni riffs I have made over the years, it is clear that this has not always been the case. To put it mildly, I have not always been kind in my descriptions. So, let’s get this out there, right upfront, I was wrong. Although, I left lots of qualifiers about my palate not being sophisticated enough to appreciate the more bitter side of the spectrum, that doesn’t change the fact that I was clearly mistaken and the complexity of this drink is only matched by its versatility. Whether you choose a Summer Negroni, Boulevardier, Count Mast, Montenegroni, Bitter Heart, Final Countdown, Drunk Uncle, Lucien Gaudin, the doubly bitter Scorched Earth or any of the other Negroni variations out there, you will be rewarded with a complex, bittersweet experience, which is really all you can ask from life. I am a changed man, going from one of its most bitter detractors to an evangelist for this simple construction. Life is a journey and I found another path, I hope Mr. Bourdain would be proud.
This particular version, created by Leanne Favre at Brooklyn’s Leyenda, caught my eye for two reasons. The first is an interesting ingredient, which we might as well go ahead and make, Strawberry Infused Suze-Capelletti. Combine 2 parts of that wonderful wine based bitter red Capelletti with 1 part of bitter Suze Gentian Liqueur with an equal part of fresh, quartered strawberries and let sit overnight in the fridge. Strain away the strawberries and bottle your infusion. It should keep a couple of weeks or longer in the refrigerator. Now that you have your secret ingredient you are ready to mix this one up using a technique I have never seen before, a last minute rice wash to incorporate starch. Intrigued? I sure am. So, let’s make it and see how things go.
Grab your mixing pitcher and toss in 1 1/2 ounces of mezcal, I went with Del Maguey’s Vida de Muertos; 1 ounce of blanc vermouth, I chose Dolin; 3/4 of an ounce of our Strawberry Suze-Capelletti , a dash of saline solution and 2 tablespoons of uncooked rice. Add some big artisan ice cubes and give it good long stir to the beat of “Hey, Darlin’ Do You Gamble” by Lucero cause we are taking a chance here. Double strain into a rocks glass over a king cube and garnish with one of your left over strawberries.
That’s just lovely on every level. The smoke from the mezcal is right upfront, but tempered by the bitter suze-cappelletti. The blanc vermouth lays a nice herbal base note while the strawberry rides the highline. It’s all present and really nice, but the real hook here is that rice wash. It’s not about the added flavor, but that starch gives this an almost horchata like mouthfeel that just elevates the whole thing into a new realm. It is reminiscent of a Oaxacan Negroni, but with more depth and interest. I don’t think I want to drink these all night, but I sure do love finishing with one.
Trying something new is always a gamble. Maybe the stakes feel even higher when you are trying to improve on a much loved classic. The rice wash innovation and unique better element really worked for me, the same way that Sturgill Simpson’s cover of Nirvana’s In Bloom does. It takes a strong composition and elevates it to a new place. That is not always the case, we’ve all seen folks fall flat while trying to innovate for innovation’s sake, but when it works you get something truly special and maybe, you learn something. I know I have. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.