Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Cocoa Negroni!
Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. Valentine’s Day is looming large on the horizon. I wanted to post a romantic cocktail, but after a while, “romantic cocktail” starts to mean yet another dessert martini. This time, I went off the beaten path with a bright red, chocolatey drink that still manages to be bitter and complex, like many a love affair. Let’s sip some Cocoa Negronis together. Here’s the recipe.
1.25 oz cocoa-infused Campari (see below)
1.25 oz Hayman’s of London Old Tom Gin
.5 oz Carpano sweet vermouth
4 dashes chocolate bitters
1 oz semisweet chocolate chips
Melt the chocolate chips. Using a food-safe brush, coat half of a double old-fashioned glass rim with the chocolate. Place the glass in the fridge for 10 minutes to let the chocolate set.
Add vermouth, gin, bitters, and cocoa Campari to the glass. Stir to combine. Add ice. Sip and enjoy.
Cocoa Infused Campari
2 oz cocoa nibs
750 ml (one bottle) Campari
Add cocoa nibs to the bottle of Campari. Let sit 2-3 days, shaking occasionally. Strain and decant.
The Negroni is one of my favorite winter gin cocktails. This bracing, beautiful glass was created in 1919 by Count Camillo Negroni, who asked his favorite bartender to swap out the soda water in an Americano for gin. It had apparently been a hard day for il conte, and he needed extra fortification. The Negroni has been a standby ever since. It’s not a cocktail for everyone. The Negroni is undeniably bitter and herbal. Stick around for a few sips, however, and you’ll find some unexpected sweetness, as the vermouth and the hidden soft notes of Campari assert themselves.
Let’s talk ingredients:
Ingredient shot. The chocolate truffles vanished shortly after this photo was taken. Matthew Hooper
Hayman’s of London Old Tom Gin: I’ve been in a rut when it comes to my gin selection. I really do like Beefeater or Boodles, but I thought I’d try something fresh for this recipe. I wanted to stick with a classic, juniper-forward gin, the kind of liquor Count Negroni would use in his glass. Any gin that describes itself as “Old Tom” fits the bill. Hayman’s works well here, but I like Beefeater gin better.
That being said, the gin is the least important element in this cocktail. You can swap it out for all sorts of alternatives and come up with something excellent. You can undo the count’s good work, replace the gin with soda water, and make an Americano — one of my favorite low-proof drinks. Swap the gin for bourbon and you have a Boulevardier. Pour in a funky Jamaican rum, and you’re sipping on a Kingston Negroni. This is a good place to flex some creativity.
Cocoa Campari: Campari is a problem child behind the bar. That vivid color! The unmistakable flavor!. It’s an ingredient for people who love the bitter things in life. Taste it enough, though, and you’ll find sweetness and syrupy body that lingers past the initial shock.
Taming that initial harsh bitterness is the trick. Complex tiki drinks like the Jungle Bird manage it without breaking a sweat. The Negroni requires delicate balance to become a great cocktail. Too much Campari and it’s undrinkable. Too little and the glass is unbalanced, tinny, simple, and sweet.
Infusing the Campari with cocoa puts a safety net under the high-wire balancing act. The earthiness grounds the sugar and scrubs the harshest bitter notes away. You want to use cocoa nibs, not cocoa powder — they’re very different things. I infused the Campari for just three days, but you could go an entire week before straining out the beans. No reason not to let the cocoa nibs give their all.
Carpano Sweet Vermouth: I was rightfully shamed into improving my vermouth game a few weeks ago. Carpano is a very nice choice. It’s an upgrade over Gallo that still won’t break the bank. Oddly enough, the vermouth will dominate the drink if you don’t use a light hand. The jam-like notes of good vermouth are welcome here, but you want to give everything in the glass room to shine.
Chocolate Bitters: It’s worth hunting these down. Chocolate bitters are definitely chocolatey, but they also have chicory notes and other supporting flavors to ground a drink that might otherwise taste thin.
Chocolate garnish: Despite the cocoa infusion and the bitters, this drink doesn’t read as “chocolate” on its own. It’s like red velvet cake — technically chocolate, mostly about other flavors, and red. Painting a little chocolate on the rim of the glass gives you a whiff of cocoa with every sip. It wakes up the chocolate and makes a somewhat rough drink approachable.
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