Bitter and twisted: How we all fell for the great Italian aperitivo
It’s been a common sight these last few summers: crowded terraces and bars around the country, spilling over with noisy groups of revellers sipping cheerily on lurid orange cocktails.
But they’re not drinking Irn Bru. It’s evidence of an increasing trend for all things bittersweet and the explosion of drinks like the Aperol Spritz and Negroni. So why the lust for bitter?
Rohana Griffin, restaurant manager at POLPO Smithfield, explains that the trend goes hand in hand with an increased awareness for the Italian tradition of aperitivo. “These bitter drinks are perfect for enjoying before dinner to stimulate the appetite,” she says, “and people love coming into POLPO for a Negroni or Spritz”.
Loris Contro, national account manager and Italian brands ambassador for Gruppo Campari, says, “The aperitivo movement in the UK is growing, with friends meeting at the end of a working day to celebrate life with an aperitif while they enjoy nibbles in a true Italian fashion.” And it’s Aperol and Campari that are spearheading this trend, with sales of the former doubling between 2015 and 2016. Quoting recent research from CGA, Loris remarks that “Aperol Spritz and Campari's Negroni are the second and third most popular drinks for high-end consumers in London, after gin and tonic.”
So what makes a classic Negroni?
The classic Negroni is made from equal parts Campari, gin and red vermouth. We look at what each component adds to the drink.
It’s Campari that gives a Negroni its signature orange colour and bitter kick. Loris explains, “Gone are the days of the sickly-sweet Cosmopolitan in the 90s or the sugary Mojito’s popularity in the noughties. Consumers’ tastes are changing. They are taking more time over a drink and are starting to enjoy small plates, leading to the preference for the more complex and bitter-tasting cocktails,” he says.
The rise of the Negroni has gone hand in hand with the boom in craft gin and now allows bartenders to choose from a vast range of subtly-crafted flavours to include in their signature mix. Little Bird Gin is distilled in North Clapham and has a distinctively smooth, citrusy flavour. Co-founder Laura Sullivan says, “Little Bird is super in a Negroni as it doesn’t fight with the Campari or vermouth, it complements the other spirits but you can still clearly taste Little Bird and this is key!”
The key to making drinks like the Negroni so enjoyable is their perfect balance between bitter and sweet. And this is where vermouth comes in. Ian Baylis from vermouth brand Belsazar explains, “Consumers are no longer drinking those sweet, heavy (and blue!) drinks, they’re looking for something more balanced to enjoy. It doesn’t have to be overly bitter, and products like vermouth have a great balance, which can leave just a slight bitterness on the finish.”
Three signature negronis from our customers
Anthony Peart, Bar Development Manager, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow
“Equal parts Campari, Ish London Dry Gin and Caparn Antica Formula, with a big orange twist.”
Sam Boulton, Drinks Designer, Harborne Kitchen, Birmingham
“Equal parts Suze (bitter French liqueur), Sipsmith Gin and Dolin Sweet Vermouth, served with an orange twist.”
Rohana Griffin, Restaurant Manager, POLPO Smithfield, London
“Equal parts Campari, Beefeater Gin and Cinzano Vermouth 1757 Rosso, served with a slice of orange.”
And what’s next?
We asked Bibendum head of spirits development, Tim Veale, what he’s backing as the bitter hit of summer 2017. “I think there are some incredible new spirits to create bitter twists, but Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur is definitely a favourite with huge potential. Try it in a Negroni Twist, a Sicilian Spritz or served up in a Blood Orange Margarita,” he says. So watch this space!