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How to Make a Funky Rum Negroni

How to Make a Funky Rum Negroni

How to Make a Funky Rum Negroni

Sometimes, a cocktail bar will, on their menu, have a chart or “matrix,” a way to evaluate at a glance what the experience of a drink is going to be. This is usually a combination of two axes: one, from refreshing to boozy, and the other, from comfortable to adventurous. And with any such thing, a natural (if anarchic) question would be: What happens when we max both of these out in a single glass? What cocktail in the classic or modern-classic canon is both the most insane and the most intense?

Allow me to introduce you to the Kingston Negroni. The Kingston Negroni was created in 2009 by Joaquin Simó when he was at Death & Co. in NYC (the same Joaquin Simó, by coincidence, who a few years later would be the first to put a flavor matrix on a menu). The story goes that a liquor importer walked into Death & Co. with a new bottle of Jamaican rum, a particularly intense and funky blend called Smith & Cross, and “within five minutes” Simó had the idea of stirring it into a Negroni. Some cocktails take weeks of trial and error—particularly at Death & Co., at the time perhaps the most creative and precise cocktail bar in the country—but the Kingston Negroni was a one-shot hit. It went on the menu in Spring of 2010, was taken up by the blogs and then quickly spread across the country, by way of bartenders in Chicago and Portland and San Francisco who were enraptured by this brash and assaultive little drink.

The reason for the cocktail’s success and its aforementioned intensity is the particular character of Smith & Cross. Jamaican Rum is, for lack of a better word, funky. People have gone to great lengths to try to explain it, and even so far as to create a word, “hogo,” to describe the unmistakable flavors of banana and rotting tropical fruit and buttered gingerbread and (sometimes) old-meat funk that is endemic to Jamaican rum. Honestly, the category gets even funkier and weirder than Smith & Cross, but in 2009 these rums mostly weren’t exported, and even today it’s a flavor most Americans have simply never experienced. Smith & Cross is a beast, the standard bearer of the category, its flavor amplified further still by being bottled at a combustible 114 proof.

Instead of shying away from the intensity of the rum, trying to soften it with lime juice or bury it in coconut, the Kingston Negroni puts the Smith & Cross front and center. It defines the nose and palate, leading the charge with a coat of botanical vermouth and a swinging mace in the form of Campari, whose acute bitter finish can be too much for some people in and of itself. A Negroni is already bold and polarizing; the Kingston Negroni takes that template and invents new dials that it can turn up to 11. It’s so flavorful it feels like it should be against the law.

As such, the Kingston Negroni has cemented itself as a bona fide modern classic and is the favorite drink of several people I know personally. It is unyielding and unique, thunderous yet somehow balanced, with the dauntless confidence of an apex predator. Try one out some time. That is, if you’re the kind of person who looks at a scale of reasonability and thinks, “what happens on that far end over there?”

Kingston Negroni

  • 1 oz. Smith and Cross (or other, high-ester, high-proof Jamaican Rum)
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica or Carpano Classico Vermouth

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir for 10 to 20 seconds, and strain over a big cube into a rocks glass. Express the oils of an orange peel over the top, and garnish with the peel.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS

Drizly

Rum: This is a very specific drink, created specifically for Smith & Cross, which is both inexpensive and widely available. I recommend it. 

As for other rums, you certainly couldn’t use a bottle of Bacardi and have it be a Kingston Negroni. If you were going to mess with the rum, you would, at minimum, need the bottle to be not just Jamaican but a funky, hogo-full Jamaican—Appleton Estates, the biggest Jamaican rum company, doesn’t have enough funk to make a full-fledged Kingston Negroni. I’d also guide you toward higher proof, like Smith & Cross, to capture the intensity of the original. Or you can just get Smith & Cross.

Campari: I didn’t try any of Campari’s competitors in this, because I love Campari and consider it strictly necessary. I’m not saying its competitors wouldn’t work, just that Campari, along with Angostura Bitters and Green Chartreuse and a small handful of others, is one of the few truly indispensable cocktail ingredients.

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Sweet Vermouth: Simó specifically called for Carpano Antica, because it has the body to stand up to the other two towering ingredients. The logic is sound, and Carpano does indeed make the quintessential Kingston Negroni. In all my research on this drink, I couldn’t find anyone who disagreed. 

The only thing I’d add is that I liked it just as much with Carpano Classico, the newer and less popular vermouth from the same producer. The Classico doesn’t have quite as much plummy power, but it also doesn’t have the same vanilla note, which is a note this cocktail abhors. I don’t know. I wouldn’t run out and buy a bottle of it for this, and Carpano Antica has more uses (like the splendid Vieux Carré), but if you happen to have both on hand, as I did, try it with each. Carpano Classico is leaner and so the bitterness shines more, while Carpano Antica is fuller with more to say, but talks over the rum just a touch in the mid-palate.

Variations: This, like the Negroni itself, is a very malleable template. Some people make pineapple versions. Some people make coconut versions. Some people stir it with coffee beans and add some oloroso sherry. I made all three of these, and I don’t think any of them are better than the original, but they’re all good in their own way. Happy exploring.



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