Spilling The Negroni

This page is nothing other than some longwinded text on how I build the Negroni Dark.  The description of a spill-built drink overwhelmed the parent page, so I ripped it out, but decided to save it off to the side.  Here.  There is a bit of overlap, for the benefit of folks who found this page directly.

{One of these nights when I have an orange and a large ice sphere, I’ll shoot a picture of the spilt Negroni Dark.  This is my reminder.}

The drink with which I test a barman’s abilities and the quality of his cabinet is a simple drink, The Negroni.  The best I’ve had out and about in Lancaster was served before dinner at John J. Jeffries.  Kudos to JJJ on that drink and their food, too!  I’ve also had a fine Negroni sitting in an alley at a table for two just outside the bar Mundo Bizzaro in the Pietermaai district of Willemstad, Curacao.

When I build the Negroni at my bar, I build it dark.  And, frequently, spilt.

The Negroni Dark

gw blog negroni dark

-serve neat, or spilt* over a single, large cube –

The Blue Coat Barrel Reserve Gin, finished in American Oak Barrels, has a rich, amber color, so that starts the darkness in this Negroni.  Think of it as a crepuscular time of evening.  But we want impending darkness, so splash in the Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters after you’ve stacked up the spirits and you’ll see each drop infuse the Campari’s evening red until that sun has almost set.  The Wormwood Bitters adds more bitter nuances, and the float of Aromatic Bitters sets the stage on which the orange zest can sail.  If you strongly prefer high IBU beers like Stone’s Ruination, if your tongue is stunted by four or five decades of culinary abuse (think jalapenos, habaneros, ghosts, and such), or if you were just born with a blunt tongue, then a drink more bitter than sweet like The Negroni Dark will get through to you.

*spilt – This word needs a few paragraphs of expansion.  Within the confines of The Stuttering Raven a spilt drink is something other than what you might guess.  While spilt is, or at least was, indisputably, the past participle of the verb spill, no one here has gone and tipped a drink over, unless it was to knock back the next sip, or the last.  That’s tippling: consumption, not waste; intention, not error.  Errant spills?  Not going to happen on nights at The Raven.  We cradle our glasses, protective of our spirits.

“Never say never,” they say, “someone always spills.”  But they – that anonymous collective otherwise known as them – always leave the outliers outside the group to which their general pronouncement applies.  When they say ‘never say never’ regarding spills, they have already excluded, among other careful groups, the sanctified who bear Holy Water.  The sanctified do not spill.  Equally, if a certain portion of wine has been transubstantiated, but not consumed by congregants, the sanctified never tip this blood to pour it down a drain, to spill it as waste.  The religious consume it, integrate it into their holy selves.  Of course later they piss it out and what is it then, spilt as waste?  This is the sort of concern a seminarian can worry over outside the classes where impolitic bothers of the pin dancing sort are generally avoided as topics of conversation.  Within the sanctified spaces and sanctified times, spilling, for this contingent, is not an option.  Same here at The Raven, but for reasons only pertaining to taste, and appreciation of the barkeep’s craft, not sanctity.  If an unintended spill were to ever happen, accidentally, we’d all gather to weep as the spirits evaporated into the ether, and the one excluded from us all would be shamed and shunned.  Excommunication.  The spiller, in the act of spilling, not after, would have removed themselves from the group which does not spill, at least by the common understanding of the verb.  This preserves the outlier group, the group which, by definition, does not spill their drink.  Ever.

{Goat Note: Mothers, don’t let your sons grow up to be philosophers.  Cowboys, even in this age, are more practical.}

And yet, here, inside The Raven, the tender offers spilt drinks as a matter of course.  How?  Only by co-opting the word, expanding its possibility through creative redemption – the sin of spilling ushered into the glory of the spilt – which both honors the traditional meaning of the word, and inverts it, captures it, in such a fashion that a new nuance, or even a new meaning, is poured out, ready for assumption.  Redefinition.  Expansion of the possible into the realm of the actual by naming and then by action.  A spilt drink, at our bar, is a type of built drink, or, rather, a manner of building a drink.  Once built, it’s already been spilt, and it’s ready to sip…no stirring, no shaking.  And no drop wasted.

Closely watch, now, as we spill a Negroni Dark.  Set out a rocks glass.  Install one large, round, ice cube – ideally a gin clear ice cube.  Spill a measured ounce of gin over the curvature of the cube. We should call this cube what it is: an ice sphere, but by convention we don’t.  Regardless, the gin flows, and, except what clings to the cube, it falls to the bottom of the glass.  Spill an ounce of Vermouth over the cube.  Watch as it swirls itself into the Gin, mixing imperfectly.  Imperfectly only if ‘perfect mixing’ is defined as creating a homogenous solution.  We do not seek homogeneity.  Now spill one ounce of Campari over the cube, watch it tumble and tangle with its predecessors.  These red tendrils are easier to spy as they reach into the comparatively limpid liquids already chilling in the bottom of the glass.  This slow, methodical build is the spilling of the drink.  The drink itself, when complete, when its construction is past tense, is spilt.  But we’re not past tense yet.  This Negroni has its spirits, but not its bitters.  Splash the Wormwood in.  Not much to see here, unless you’re watching very closely.  The Black Walnut Bitters are another thing entirely.  Dash them over the cube and around the cube.  Like an octopus’s ink, each dark drop will splay out into the Negroni until the drops meld, with each other, and with the drink into which they are splashed.  As the darkness unfolds within the glass, gently spend an eyedropper’s worth of Aromatic Bitters over the cube, letting this roll down the remnant, that bald, arctic knob, the exposed tip of the iceberg, and then out across the dark red sea – a float.  Garnish this Negroni with a twist of orange zest.  Slide this Negroni across the bartop to the guest who has watched you craft their drink.  They’ll take it reverently, and they won’t spill a drop.  Ever.

If you’re spilling the Negroni in the proper half-light of a bar, sheltering and forgiving, then be sure to flame the orange zest in the instant before you install it in the glass.  The sparking orange oils, crisping in the air as each flashing droplet falls toward the glass, provide a momentary flourish in the semi-dark that acts as a velvet stage curtain’s rise between the prologue and the play.  The build has ended.  The consumption may begin.

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Why spill a drink?  The short answer is simple, and two-fold.  First, the presentation during the build prepares the imbiber to appreciate this one drink; it whets their appetite and it craves their attention, clawing their focus away from competing indulgences such as lively banter or the loss of self, staring into their lover’s eyes.  Second, a spilt drink is surprising, explicitly because it is not evenly mixed.  There are moments on the tongue when the drink is sweeter, or more bitter, when Campari rules, or Wormwood.  Even when you think you know what to expect, generally, there are little specific surprises and this reach into the unknown, drop by drop, becomes the exploration of the drink from nosing it out until the final trickle is drained away from the glass.  The array of subtle differences in a spilt drink versus a well-mixed drink are marginal, but it’s within this margin that the observant participants stake their claim to having found the next moment of their life, well worth living.