Aged Cocktails Redux – The Negroni

Having a bad memory is sometimes useful. I often forget where I’ve put things and while this is usually annoying (such as with the lost Waragi that I’ve been meaning to taste and write about for the last year) it can also lead to happy finds at the back of the booze cupboard. The other day, while searching for the Waragi, I noticed a sharpie labelled bottle that had slipped my mind shortly after putting the cap on, back on 28th October 2012 – a bottle aged Negroni.

Having had my theories on the ridiculousness of bottle ageing slapped down by Tony Conigliaro at a cocktail making class a couple of years back, I’ve been waiting to do some testing of my own. To this end I made up a bottle of Negroni last October with the intention of trying it at Christmas, or maybe in Spring if it lasted that long – I even wrote a blog post about it. However, thanks to my ability to forget things I’ve now ended up with a bottle of Negroni that’s 10 months old. So, here’s the follow-up blog post – did anything actually happen in the bottle?

To recap – I made a simple negroni with equal measures of Tanqueray Gin, Gancia Rosso and Campari; stuck it in a bottle; and hid it in a cupboard for almost 10 months. To compare I made up a fresh one, using fresh bottles and the same proportions. I tried each drink before and after stirring down with ice, trying to keep the amount of stirring and ice about the same.

Bottle-aged Negroni

Colour-wise there’s pretty much no difference – with the bottle being stored at the back of a dark cupboard out of the sun I think that’s mainly a testament to the stability of the food colourings used in both the Gancia (E150b) and Campari (artificial colouring that isn’t E120/Cochineal – they stopped using that back in the mid 2000s). However, both texture and flavour had definitely altered during the time in the dark.

Before adding ice, the freshly made drink was definitely gin-led – lots of juniper and spirit on the nose. Behind that was some ginny spice (cardamom, coriander, ground juniper) and sweet cherry. On the palate it was sweet and sticky with balanced bitterness – juniper and herbal wormwood. Along with that was some sweet cherry, sugar syrup and twiggy bitterness. It finished with more sticky sweetness and a touch of spicy juniper.

The bottle-aged cocktail, without ice, showed its difference immediately – a lot less alcohol with some light menthol, sweet cherry, green herbs and a touch of piney juniper. To taste it was soft and sweet, with more richness than the unaged one. There was less woody bitterness, but more green herb bitterness, as well as menthol and intense cherry. It finished with herbal bitterness and syrupy sweetness, turning slowly woody. Bitter herbs lingered.

With ice the freshly made negroni was again heavy on the gin – juniper and a touch of berry sweetness. To taste it continued the theme of the unchilled version, with sticky sweetness and definite syrupy texture. The bitterness was dulled by the chilling, but was hiding away somewhere at the back. Some dilution seems to have helped bring out more of the vermouth, with rich fruit and woody bitterness coming out on the finish, with sweet berries lingering.

The bottled version again had more on the nose, even with ice – rich dark fruit and sweet vermouth. On the palate it was rich, thick and sweet, with dark fruit and some woody spice. Behind that was some piney juniper and some sugar syrup. It finished rich and sweet, with bitter herbs, fragrant wood (herb stems?) and grape skin slowly appearing, with woodiness lingering.

So, all in all a definite success – there was a clear difference between the unaged and aged cocktails. Also, both have their place – the fresh made version was more zesty and, well, fresher, with lighter flavours from the components coming through; the aged version had more emphasis on the darker notes, green herbs and spice, making a richer and heavier cocktail.

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