Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland

By: Jase Luttrell
Posted: 13 July 2015
Category: Features Comments View Comments


The kickoff event for the growing annual worldwide phenomenon that celebrates the esoteric Italian cocktail known as the Negroni was an invite only affair in Portland, Oregon, that featured 12 special Negronis that were expertly concocted and crafted by drink experts from all over the world.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland
Above: A Trout Creek Negroni.

For the uninitiated, there are three types of people in the world: those who love a cool and bitter Negroni, normally as an aperitif before a meal, those who decidedly abhor the cocktail, considering it as foul as cough medicine, and, finally, those who have no idea what a Negroni is. For those in the last camp, a Negroni is an Italian cocktail first served roughly 100 years ago. It is made from equal parts gin, vermouth (usually red and semisweet), and Campari, and garnished with a sliver of orange peel. It can be a refreshing, cool drink on a summer day or something enjoyed in front of a fireplace in winter before or after a large meal. The floral and aromatic spices of the gin used can alter the flavour of the drink considerably and the astringent but sweet rhubarb and orange-forward flavours of Campari can overpower the subtleties of the drink if the proportions are off. Though the cocktail seems simple with its three ingredients (plus garnish) it can be a trick to master and creating palatable variations of the classic recipe is a true feat.

This year's Negroni Social, the fifth annual event to celebrate this drink, was held on the evening of 1 June at Jacobsen Salt Co. in Portland, Oregon, USA, and is the kickoff event for Negroni Week, which runs for a week in June each year, worldwide. As a historical introduction, the Negroni Social started in 2010 at the southeast Portland Italian restaurant Nostrana as an invite only charitable event featuring the cocktail and its many variations. The increase in popularity through the years inspired the launch of Negroni Week in 2013, which is sponsored by Campari and Imbibe Magazine. Over 3000 bars participated this year, with each offering a portion of its Negroni sales to a charitable organisation local to the establishment. From 2013 to 2014 the initiative raised more than US$120 000 for various causes.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland

The Negroni Social is an invite only, hospitality industry party that, over the years, has become increasingly difficult for individuals to attend because entrance is so highly sought-after. This year's theme was "Back To The Negroni, Negronis Under The Sea" and the intent was to have attendees and their guests dress in 50s dance attire or as a character from Back To The Future as the theme was a riff on the "Enchantment Under The Sea" high school dance in Back To The Future and Back To The Future II. (It's likely no coincidence that Back To The Future celebrated its 30th anniversary on 3 July.) With this theme, attendees appeared dressed as a seemingly confusing mix of Marty McFlys and Doc Browns in 80s style attire and others dressed as though they were characters from the 50s era in which the dance in the movies occurs. A Delorean was parked in front of the Jacobsen Salt Co. loading area for guests to have their picture taken with Marty McFly and Doc lookalikes and DJ Expensive Taste managed to mix popular hits from the 50s and 80s into a cohesive set that got the crowd dancing after the libations began to flow.

This is the first year the Negroni Social was not held at Nostrana, presumably because of popularity and the opportunity to host a larger crowd at the Jacobsen Salt Co. in the Central Eastside Industrial District of Portland. The event space was large and had a number of tall, round tables for guests to set their drinks down and the white painted brick walls were adorned with vintage-style Campari posters. One half of the room was predominantly illuminated by red lighting, while the other half comprising the dance floor was illuminated by moving blue lights that emulated ocean currents, following the under-the-sea theme. The lighting was low, as is typical of a cocktail bar or a high school Saturday dance.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland
Above: Ingredients for the New Pal Negroni (left), which was created by Jeff Hollinger, and the Pizzicato Passage Negroni, which was created by Anu Apte.

Each attendee was given a booklet as a programme that explained how the event worked and it included one ticket to use for an introductory classic Negroni. Guests were instructed to find women wearing blue wigs to buy additional tickets, for the price of US$10 for one or US$45 for five. One ticket each could be used to purchase a Negroni recipe book, a caricature portrait, a pizza made on site by Nostrana staff, or one of the 12 Pro Series Negronis available at the main bar. All proceeds benefited Outside In, a Portland organisation that helps homeless youth achieve self-sufficiency.

The main bar was a U shape in the centre of the Jacobsen Salt Co. space, with a bartender at 12 numbered stations each serving a Pro Series Negroni. The Pro Series Negronis is a programme started by Derrick Douglas and Nicholas Suhor from the Rooster Bar at Nostrana and the booklet listed all the Negroni variations of the month, creating a year of Pro Series Negronis as debuted by the Rooster Bar between June 2014 and May 2015. Each recipe was selected by Nostrana staff from menus and bars all over the world. Each cocktail was made one at a time at the event by the extremely professional bartenders who took real pride in their craft. Nearly all of the Pro Series drinks featured Campari but variations in types of gin and vermouth were used. Some of the recipes traded the gin for whiskey or tequila, while others included mixers such as Stumptown Coffee Roaster's cold-brew coffee, soda, liqueurs, or even plum wine. An unfortunate consequence of an alcohol-centric event is that you have to manage your alcohol intake so I was only able to sample five of the 12 cocktails on the night, as well as the standard introductory Negroni. My impressions and thoughts on each are below, after the full list of the Pro Series Negronis.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland
Above: Ingredients for the Trout Creek Negroni, which was created by Jason Rowan.

The bar ware was provided by Bull In China and Salt & Straw offered free Negroni-flavoured ice-cream push pops. The company used many of the aromatic spices found in gin, such as cardamom, coriander, and juniper, along with Campari and orange peel, to create its ice cream. The result was exceptionally creamy and pleasant at first but the excessive orange peel was so astringent it was nearly caustic - I didn't even finish half of my ice cream.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland
Above: Sam Farley Smith, who made the Stone Fruit Negronis that were created by Kenta Goto.

As a whole, the Negroni Social was an excellent event and one I hope to attend again in the future. I highly recommend people make an attempt to participate in Negroni Week in their area. You can visit the web site to search for participating bars and restaurants in your city. If there isn't one find a local establishment known for craft cocktails and speak to the bartender or manager about participating in the 2016 Negroni Week. Typically US$1 from the sale of each Negroni is given to a local charity of the bar's choosing and the warm feeling of alcohol is only magnified by the knowledge that your drinking can be considered a charitable effort.

The Pro Series Negronis

The following comes from the booklet A Year Of Pro Series Negronis (with a little editing and fact checking from us), which was made available at the 2015 Negroni Social. Each month Derrick Douglas and Nicholas Suhor from the Rooster Bar at Nostrana select a Negroni recipe variation or create one of their own to debut on their menu. Since many of the Negroni variations were created by people outside of Oregon, the name of the person who created the cocktail is listed, as is the name of the individual who created the drink at the 2015 Negroni Social in Portland.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland
Above: Antonio Parlapiano making a Negroni del Professore Negroni, which he created.

January 2015: Cagliostro Cocktail, created by Jamie Boudreau from Canon, Seattle, Washington, USA, and tended by Brandon Josie.
Composition: Tanqueray London Dry Gin, Pimm's No. 1, Bigallet Viriana China China, Scrappy's Orange Bitters

February 2015: Bittersweet Symphony, created by Jeffrey Morgenthaler from Clyde Common, Portland, Oregon, USA, and tended by Jeff Seymour.
Composition: Broker's London Dry Gin, Carpano Punt e Mes, Aperol

March 2015: Trout Creek Negroni, created by Jason Rowan from the blog Embury Cocktails, New York City, New York, USA, tended by Pete Maben.
Composition: Gordon's London Dry Gin, Campari, Dolin Rouge - Vermouth De Chambéry, Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau De Vie, smoked Douglas fir sprig

April 2015: Negroni del Professore, created by Antonio Parlapiano from The Jerry Thomas Project, Rome, Italy, tended by Antonio Parlapiano.
Composition: Ransom Old Tom Gin, Campari, Vermouth del Professore Classico Bianco, Luxardo Maraschino, Scrappy's Seville Orange Bitters, soda water, orange peel, ice

May 2015: Stone Fruit Negroni, created by Kenta Goto from Pegu Club, New York City, New York, USA, tended by Sam Farley Smith.
Composition: Choya Kokutu Umeshu, Clear Creek Kirschwasser, Campari, Aperol, ice

June 2014: Apposta, created by Charles Joly from Crafthouse, Chicago, Illinois, USA, tended by Sean Hoard.
Composition: Beefeater 24, Aperol, Carpano Punt e Mes, lemon juice, Sanpellegrino Pompelmo

July 2014: Negroni d'Estate 2.0, created by Toby Cecchini from The Long Island Bar, New York City, New York, USA, tended by Angel Teta.
Composition: Plymouth Gin Original Strength, Aperitivo Cappelletti, Dolin Blanc - Vermouth De Chambéry, soda water

August 2014: Negroni all'Arrabiata, created by Peter Carpenter from Nostrana, Portland, Oregon, USA, tended by Peter Carpenter.
Composition: Gompers Gin, Campari, Cocchi Americano infused with a serrano pepper

September 2014: Americano??? [sic], created by Ricky Gomez from Cure, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, tended by Tyler Stevens.
Composition: Campari, Tequila Cazadores Reposado, Cocchi Storico Vermouth Di Torino, Stumptown Cold Brew Coffee

October 2014: New Pal, created by Jeff Hollinger from Comstock Saloon, San Francisco, California, USA, tended by Mike Treffehn.
Composition: Old Overhold Straight Rye Whiskey, Campari, Cocchi Storico Vermouth Di Torino, Pernod absinthe, Peychaud's Bitters, ice, orange peel

November 2014: Pizzicato Passage, created by Anu Apte from Rob Roy, Seattle, Washington, USA, tended by Anu Apte.
Composition: Amaro Meletti, Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos, Beefeater London Dry Gin, Ancho Reyes, Scrappy's Chocolate Bitters

December 2014: Bittersweet Affair, created by Jacques Bezuidenhout from Forgery, San Francisco, California, USA, tended by Lisa Victoria Hare.
Composition: Campari, Ransom Old Tom Gin, Luxardo Espresso Coffee Liqueur, Ditta Bortolo Nardini Tagliatella

The Americano??? is a brilliantly smooth drink with the Tequila Cazadores Reposado, my personal favourite tequila, combined with the vermouth and Campari. However, the Stumptown Cold Brew Coffee overpowers the drink, making it a sweet after-dinner drink rather than a before-meal aperitif.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland
Above: Pete Maben making a trout Creek Negroni, which was created by Jason Rowan.

The Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau De Vie in the Trout Creek Negroni accentuates the gin, and the smoked-on-site Douglas fir tip added as a garnish was a nice touch that brought forth scents of Christmas, making the drink a pleasure to consume, although the pine needles tickled my nose each time I took a sip.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland
Above: Peter Carpenter making a Negroni all'Arrabiata, which he created.

I was wary of the Negroni all'Arrabiata because of the serrano chilli pepper-infused vermouth but I wanted to give it a try because it seemed so daring and stood out from the others on the list. I normally steer clear of spicy drinks because they can sometimes be too much heat for me but this cocktail brings the Negroni to a new level and the spiciness balances the bitter and sweet attributes of the Campari. This is a drink created by Peter Carpenter from Nostrana so I'm happy to know that I can order it at the restaurant throughout the year.

The Negroni del Professore was served with a large ice cube. It is a very smooth drink because of the high-quality ingredients and had a splash of unexpected but welcome effervescence from the soda water which was added as a finishing touch. Antonio Parlapiano created the drink and tended the bar, and he was an absolute joy to watch because he was outwardly enthusiastic in his enjoyment of the event and in sharing his craft.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland
Above: Tyler Stevens (left), who served the Americano??? Negroni, and Mike Treffehn, who served the New Pal Negroni.

It was quite a surprise to see the gin of a Negroni replaced with one of my favourite whiskies in the New Pal. This drink is sweeter than I thought it would be and the oak undertones of the whiskey were not overpowered by the aromatic absinthe as I thought they might be, though the anise of the absinthe was very present and blended well with the Campari.

The Negroni — A Short History from Nostrana on Vimeo.

Download the 2015 Negroni Week Bar Passport (PDF) for more recipes. 2016 Negroni Week has been scheduled for 6 to 12 June.

Revellers Go Back In Time At The Exclusive 2015 Negroni Social In Portland

Tags: #arts_and_culture, #portland, #whisky

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