Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”

For the past five years, Imbibe magazine and Campari have teamed up during the first week of June to celebrate Negroni Week, a time when restaurants and bars worldwide raise money for various charities by toasting the aperitif that was created in the early 1900s. The first Negroni Week, in 2012, raised barely $100,000 for charity. Last year’s event raised over $400,000, bringing the five-year total to just under $1 million. And although the negroni is my favorite cocktail, it’s doubly satisfying to know that my purchase is benefiting a charity.

Photo of the Classic negroni.
Classic negroni.

What’s a Negroni?

There are many stories relating to the creation of the negroni — the most popular one is that it was created in 1919 at the Caffe Casoni in Florence, Italy. Count Camillo Negroni is said to have asked bartender Fosco Scarselli to strengthen his favorite cocktail at the time, an Americano consisting of equal parts of Campari and sweet red vermouth with a splash of sparkling water and garnished with a lemon peel. Scarselli substituted the sparkling water with gin, but instead of simply adding a splash of gin, he added it in equal parts with the Campari and sweet red vermouth and then garnished it with an orange peel.

The cocktail became so popular that the Negroni family created the Negroni Distillerie in Treviso, Italy, and began bottling a premade version called Antico Negroni. Orson Welles enjoyed it so much that he was quoted as saying, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”

It would be another 70 or so years before I sampled my first negroni. I distinctly remember that experience. It was at the Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley, Calif., where it was listed as “The Perfect Negroni,” using both dry white and sweet red vermouth. I had always been intrigued with that bitter red liqueur, Campari. It had an intense bitterness along with orange notes and herbal qualities. The thought of combining it with gin (my favorite libation) and the herbal-sweet qualities of two different vermouths piqued my interest enough that I had to order it. With that first sip, a new liquid romance was born.

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Photo of the negroni was paired with an antipasti platter.
The negroni was paired with an antipasti platter.

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