Welcome to Drinking Coffee, a new feature series on Sprudge celebrating coffee’s many uses behind the bar and beyond. In the months to come, we’ll be sharing our favorite coffee cocktail recipes, talking to some of our favorite bartenders, and exploring the rightful place of coffee in the pantheon of cocktail creation. Up first: Sprudge co-founder and James Beard Award winner Jordan Michelman invites you to explore the Coffee Negroni (or the “Sprudgegroni” if you insist). 

There may be no cocktail more celebrated in the world right now than the Negroni. Some of that, we’re convinced, comes back to the name—Negroni—the very utterance of which invokes the chicest aperitivo hour, with the promise of an evening’s fabulous enjoyments ahead. (It is named for booze-loving Italian viscount and former wild west rodeo clown Camillo Negroni, true story.) But the drink’s modern zeitgeist owes a great deal to the endless permutations implied by Negroni’s simple structure: gin, vermouth, and Campari, poured in equal measure and stirred with ice, served over more ice with an orange garnish.

Nearly every portion of this combination is adjustable, tweakable, and endlessly interchanging, save perhaps the Campari portion, which gives the Negroni its appealing sunset ochre hue and appetite-stirring bitter bite. For me, a Negroni needs Campari to truly earn its ‘groni stripes; I am aware this declaration omits the drink known as the White Negroni, which makes use of ingredients like Lillet Blanc and Suze, and is its own beast entirely.

The Mezcal Negroni, the Amaro Negroni, the Bermuda Negroni, the Negroni Sbagliato: all this and more awaits the thirsty and inventive bartender interested in tweaking the drink’s infinitely riffable baseline. This brings us to the Sprudge Coffee Negroni. Our version stays true to the founding spirit of the Negroni, which is to say, it is a cocktail comprised of Gin, vermouth, and of course, Campari, a wonderfully complex spirit which reminds us not a little bit of a good shot of washed espresso: bitter yet sweet, floral yet dry, redolent of fruit yet utterly expressive of its own identity.

As with any simple drink—and this is a deceptively simple one—the choice of which gin and which vermouth is very much part of the fun, as well as the ratios in which you intend to blend them. Read on for a road map on our favorite expression, after much tinkering. But let’s give coffee pride of place here; this is a Coffee Negroni, after all. We played with heaps of liquors, liqueurs, bitters, and other assorted coffee drams, each of which have their own special place in the cocktail pantheon. Ultimately we found coffee’s home in this drink not in the spirits, but in the ice. First we’ll stir the drink using an ice cube made of Honduras La Cueva by Partners Coffee; then we’ll serve the Coffee Negroni over two coffee cubes, which will slowly dilute and subtly impart smart coffee flavors in the course of each sip. In this way the addition of brewed coffee is allowed to mingle with the expressive gin, and plays gracefully with the orange garnish, the classic finishing flourish to traditional Negroni construction.

The final element of the Negroni’s robust worldwide popularity is its relative ease of construction; nearly anyone can make a version of this drink at home, which is much to its benefit. The Negroni need not be subjected to a 30 step three-day centrifugal treatment—it is a drink for everyone. We hope you very much enjoy this drink, which at its heart is a reverently traditional spin on the Negroni format made all the better by the inclusion of coffee, not unlike life itself.

The Sprudge Coffee Negroni

• 1.5 oz Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin
• 1 oz Punt e Mes vermouth
• 1.5 oz Campari
• Partners Coffee Honduras La Cueva, brewed via Chemex and frozen in square rocks mold

— A note on gin: Not unlike that Hansel, Germany’s gin distilling scene is so hot right now, and Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin by Black Forest Distillers has become quite popular among bartenders over the last decade. It is a notably savory gin, offsetting traditional gin aromatics like citrus peel and juniper with botanicals like cinnamon, cloves, licorice, and sage. This depth and complexity play quite well with coffee.

— A note on vermouth: Italy’s Punt e Mes is a household name in the bar world, hailing originally from Torino. Our use of it here is a nod to the Fergroni, my personal favorite Negroni variation, as perfected by Fergus Henderson and the bar team at London’s St. John restaurants.

— A note on ratios: we’ve tweaked the classic 1: 1: 1 with an eye towards the role our diluted coffee cubes will play. A soft touch with the vermouth is agreeable to this drink.

Instructions:

First, brew your washed coffee—we like this Honduras La Cueva from Partners Coffee, but feel free to use your favorite available coffee, and play with the flavors. We brewed via a Chemex but your home batch brewer, AeroPress, or preferred filter cone will do just fine.

Allow the coffee to cool to room temperature.

Freeze in square rocks molds. This is where some purists might start howling—“Won’t that ruin the coffee?”—a topic upon which there is considerable differing information online. The short answer is that for our purposes in cocktail creation, the end result is only ruinous if one Sprudge Negroni turns into three or four. A frozen coffee cocktail cube is a wonder and a delight, and need not cause you undue angst. Please note that we are not suggesting that you freeze coffee in order to drink it straight later; dilution in a cocktail format is quite a different bag of monkeys than direct consumption. And be quick with the cube-to-shaker train of action. Avoid storing coffee cubes in the fridge for weeks; make fresh coffee cubes a night or two before you intend to stir up your negroni.

Combine gin, vermouth, and Campari in a shaker or pitcher with a single coffee cube. Stir 13 times clockwise in accordance with Japanese craft cocktail tradition.

Serve over an additional coffee cube in a lowball glass. Garnish with an orange peel—avoid the temptation to garnish with coffee beans, a lovely addition to some coffee cocktails but not all coffee cocktails. Drink whilst considering the next steps of your evening.

Drinking Coffee is a new feature series on Sprudge. Check back for much more Drinking Coffee. 

Jordan Michelman (@suitcasewine) is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.