I remember the first time Nick and I tried a classic Negroni, a traditional mixture of gin, red Italian bitter liqueur, and red vermouth. We hated it. Perhaps it was the quality of the ingredients or the overwhelming bitterness of the Campari, but we were both shocked at how viscerally we despised this drink. Fast forward to a lovely meal at Veritas in the Al Messila Resort & Spa in Doha, Qatar, where a Coffee Negroni on the cocktail menu caught our eye. Following my own mixology advice to bravely taste and try new things, I ordered the Coffee Negroni and was amazed at how the coffee-bean infusion changed the entire character of the drink. Nick and I experimented at home to recreate this lovely cocktail, which I was happy to share with my clients at my weekly cocktail tasting! And to round off the tasting, we finished with a delicious Peanut Butter Cookie cocktail made with peanut butter flavored whiskey. Here’s how to make these cocktails at home!
To make a good Negroni cocktail at home, the quality of the gin and red vermouth matter. With only three traditional ingredients, a Negroni’s spirits cannot hide behind sugar or citrus. You’ve got to use quality parts to build a quality whole with this kind of cocktail. I chose to use Citadelle Gin from France. This gin has been winning tons of awards and accolades, with a 96 rating from the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, 5 stars from Spirit Journal, and a double gold medal in the San Francisco Spirits Competition. It’s not surprising considering how good it tastes! If you like the botanicals in gin, Citadelle is for you. The distillers use a progressive infusion technique that infuses each of the 19 botanicals at a different stage in the process, based on the temperature and proof, to maximize the flavor and impact of each botanical. This process gives the gin a bright, citrus aroma with flavors of juniper and spice, including licorice and pink peppercorns. The balanced finish is just icing on the cake. Plus, the bottle is gorgeous! I paired this gin with DeSalins Vermouth Rouge, a bold and robust red vermouth with complex flavors of stewed fruit and spice that holds up well to the other ingredients.
Another consideration is whether you want to stick with the bitter, amaro-forward liqueur like Campari or Rosso Amaro or use a less bitter red Italian liqueur. Personally, I prefer Negronis made with a less bitter red Italian liqueur, like the Knight Gabriello Aperix Aperitivo. The Knight Gabriello family, which also makes the amaretto I used in the Peanut Butter Cookie cocktail for this week, were literally knighted by the Italian government due to the strength of their Italian liqueurs! That strength can be seen in this bittersweet Italian aperitif liqueur, which gives a light, citrusy, and herbal note to the Negroni that I find more accessible than the amaro-forward liqueurs. (But since the coffee-bean infusion can be done with any Italian red bitter liqueur, figure out what you like best and go with it!)
The magic of the Coffee Negroni, of course, is found in the four-hour infusion of the Italian aperitif with the whole coffee beans. The coffee beans reduce the acidity and round out the flavors of the cocktail, adding just a hint of coffee depth to the finish. All you have to do is measure out the amount of Italian aperitif you need for your cocktails, and throw in a few coffee beans. Time does the rest. Four hours is enough. Then you simply strain the beans out and mix your cocktail!
I coupled the Coffee Negroni, a refreshing start-of-the-evening drink, with the Peanut Butter Cookie cocktail, the Total Wine cocktail for the month of November. The Peanut Butter Cookie cocktail was a delicious drink because the Skatterbrain Peanut Butter Whiskey blends a smooth and mild Canadian whiskey with 100% all-natural peanut butter flavors, resulting in an eminently drinkable whiskey with a subtle (not overpowering) peanut finish. Coupled with my favorite amaretto (Knight Gabriello again) and the El Padrino Original Tequila Cream, this was an easy and decadent dessert drink that would be perfect for sipping by the fireplace this holiday season. Here are the recipes!
Holiday sweater #1 of the season: “It’s beginning to look a lot like cocktails…”
The Coffee Negroni
1 oz gin
1 oz red Italian bitter liqueur
½ oz red vermouth (taste test this yourself: you may want to add more or less, depending on the vermouth’s complexity and robustness!)
Whole coffee beans (Arabica)
Infuse the red Italian bitter liqueur with whole coffee beans for four hours; strain. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing glass, add one large ice cube, and stir to chill and dilute. Serve in an old-fashioned glass over another large ice cube!
The Peanut Butter Cookie Cocktail
1 oz peanut butter flavored whiskey
½ oz amaretto
½ oz tequila cream
Shake all ingredients with ice, strain, and serve! (Can either serve “up,” in a coupe or dessert glass, or over a large ice cube in an old-fashioned glass for a sipper.)