New twists on the Negroni challenge the original

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Those who know me well are aware of my love of the Negroni. The perfect aperitif and a favorite since my first visit to Italy 11 years ago, I crave Campari’s bitter crispness balanced with gin. I concur with Victoria Moore who says in her book, How to Drink: “The negroni is a beautiful thing, garnet in color, sweet-astringent to taste, and decisively highbrow. Drinking it feels like taking a sip of Florence, Renaissance frescoes, students swooping about on scooters...” My typically adventurous palate sees no reason to vary from a traditional, already perfect Negroni recipe (http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Negroni), but the skilled bartenders in our fair city and the makers of a brilliant new product, Gran Classico Bitter have been opening my eyes in recent months to other Negroni vistas.

TEMPUS FUGIT NEGRONI at Spoonbar -- Scott Beattie offers three versions of Negronis at the wonderful new Spoonbar in Healdsburg. The Tempus Fugit Negroni ($8.50) particularly wows. Made with Ransom's (http://www.ransomspirits.com) impeccable Old Tom Gin, Dolin Rouge Vermouth, orange zest and Tempus Fugit's Gran Classico Bitter, it's a musky, full revelation.

PISCO NEGRONI at Cantina -- Duggan McDonnell at Cantina showed me another way as realized as a classic Negroni: a Pisco Negroni. Out of all four here, this one tastes most like the original, bright with pisco instead of gin, Gran Classico instead of Campari. It’s lush, almost caramel-y with his lovely Encanto Pisco, while the favored bitter/tart Campari offers is illuminated in the Gran Classico.

Brian MacGregor's NEGRONI d'OR -- Brian MacGregor is shaking cocktails for his last week at Jardiniere, a loss for that bastion of 1930's, supperclub-style elegance, but a gain for the upcoming Locanda, opening in the Mission from the Delfina crew, where MacGregor will be Bar Manager. He went all the way to Cognac, France, for the G'Vine Gin World Finals with this pristine beauty that comes unadorned in a wine glass. It's golden-hued and smooth with G'vine Nouasion gin, Dolin White vermouth and, yes, Gran Classico. It may no longer be on order at Jardiniere once MacGregor departs after 9/9, but if you ask nicely, he might be able to make it for you in his new digs.

LO SCANDINAVO at 15 Romolo
The gifted crew at 15 Romolo continually does it right, pushing boundaries while maintaining taste and classic standards. The Negroni gets a Scandinavian makeover with the Lo Scandinavo ($11), aka Aquavit Negroni: North Shore Aquavit, Gran Classico Bitter and Carpano Antica. Here, an astringent smoothness is accented by a slice of lemon peel. The aquavit forms a clean foundation for the bitter qualities to shine.

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