Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hopped Negroni

Although I’ve been toying with hop-infused booze for some time, it was the cold-drip Negroni at – deep breath – Enrique’s School for to Bullfighting that convinced me to get a move on. It also steered me towards a bit of drink-making kit I already had in the cupboard and was familiar with: ye olde Vietnamese coffee filter (I should also mention that David Nguyen-Luu had a cocktail on the Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth menu that also involved the same filters, but alas, I'm yet to road-test it). If you haven’t got one, a visit to Tran’s Emporium or your nearest Asian supermarket is a must. You’ll be able to pick up a complete kit consisting of filter, tray, tamp and lid for less than a fiver. As well as allowing you to explore the wonderful world of hop-enhanced cocktails, you’ll also be able to brew your own condensed milk-enriched Vietnamese iced coffee (ca phe sua da) in the mornings.

Like all things Negroni-related, don’t think of this as a set-in-stone recipe, but more of a suggested itinerary. From the type of hops and the amount used to the spirits and their ratios, there’s plenty of room for creativity. I might mention, however, that opting for a drier, more restrained vermouth (ie not Antica Formula) would probably help accentuate this drink’s bitter notes. In this instance, I reached for a bottle of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino rather than my usual Negroni vermouth-of-choice, Dolin Rouge.

And now, the hops. Before beer geeks don their battle flannel, I’m no home brewer. This drink is about taking one (a la mode) aspect of brewing and incorporating it in the fine art of making drinks. Perhaps there are more appropriate hops for this exercise. I'd be stoked if there was. But as a starting point, I’m chuffed with how nicely the Negroni played with the Saaz hops I'd bought from my local homebrew store. Straight out the bag, the hop pellets are a little too big to work in the filter so they'll need to be grounded down with a mortar and pestle (ground the pellets till the hops are about the same coarseness as, funnily enough, Vietnamese coffee). While I’ve settled on a ratio of one heaped tablespoon of crushed hops to 90ml of (undiluted) Negroni, feel free to get as oppy as you like. My advice, however, is start small and, if necessary, pass the drink back through the filter. Like the old cooking adage goes, it’s easier to put seasoning in than take it out.

Best of all, once you get this technique down pat, you can use it to flavour other drinks, perhaps using flowers that are local, in-season and not shipped in from elsewhere on the planet. Also, a disclaimer of sorts: while Google searches for “hopped Negroni” didn’t unearth much, this technique isn't new new and I'll willingly acknowledge that people have been flavouring booze since the advent of distillation. Still, it's relatively straight-forward and doesn't require anything woundingly expensive. And if it adds a new string to your drink-making bow, I'm happy. Oh, and I’m pleased to report it tasted how I hoped it would. Resiny hop aromatics with a pronounced bitterness to the usual Negroni flavour profile. Good luck and keen to hear any thoughts you might have.

Hopped Negroni
30ml Tanqueray 10 gin
30ml Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
30ml Campari
1 heaped tablespoon of crushed Saaz hop pellets

Stir gin, vermouth and Campari over ice for 15 seconds. Strain into a Vietnamese coffee filter filled with crushed hops and allow liquid to slowly pass through (this should take around four minutes). Pour hopped Negroni into a rocks glass with two large cubes of ice. Serve at once.