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A&E

Cocktail Class: Negroni with Ben Poffenroth

Ben Poffenroth, bartender, manager and co-owner of Durkin’s Liquor Bar in downtown Spokane, made this classic Negroni as well as a variation. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Ben Poffenroth, bartender, manager and co-owner of Durkin’s Liquor Bar in downtown Spokane, made this classic Negroni as well as a variation. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, the ruby-hued Negroni is simple but sophisticated, a classic Italian cocktail that’s both bold and bitter – and, if you like, built right in the glass.

It’s become particularly popular in America during the past decade. In fact, the Negroni has grown so fashionable that Campari helped launch Negroni Week, which started with about 100 venues in 2013 and grew to more than 7,700 worldwide this year.

The first time Ben Poffenroth tasted the famously red liqueur on its own, he wasn’t sure he liked it. “I thought, ‘This is so bitter.’ ” For him, Campari – and the stylish Negroni – were both “an acquired taste.”

Now, he finds the Negroni “refreshing. It’s a sipper,” he said. “It’s refreshing but strong enough that you’re not going to pound it.”

Poffenroth, 31, has been bartending since 2014. He’s a partner and vice president of a local family of restaurants: Durkin’s Liquor Bar, Casper Fry, and Madeleine’s Café and Patisserie – all in Spokane. He fills in wherever he’s needed, including behind the bar at Durkin’s and Casper Fry.

When he makes a Negroni, “I’ll ask you if you want it up or on the rocks.” Or, rock. Typically, he makes a Negroni with one large ice cube.

The sweet vermouth softens the Campari, created in 1860. (The Negroni itself – depending on which origin story you believe – likely dates to circa 1919.) But gin will make or break this drink, a twist on the Americano, which was popular in the early 20th century and made with equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda.

Experiment with brands of gin and vermouth for subtle differences. Or, make a variation. Mix a Boulevardier by replacing the gin with bourbon. Use rye instead and make an Old Pal. For a Negroni Sbagliato, replace the gin with 2 to 3 ounces of Prosecco or sparkling wine.

Poffenroth’s variation uses his current spirit of choice: pineapple rum.

Negroni

1 ounce gin

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce sweet vermouth

Orange peel, for garnish

Add all ingredients – except garnish – along with ice into mixing glass. Stir. Strain and serve into ice-filled old-fashioned glass and serve on the rocks. Or, serve it up by straining into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with orange peel after expressing the oils over the drink.

Pineapple-Rum Variation

Poffenroth likes Averna for its richness and included a full ounce the first time he made his pineapple-rum variation. But it proved to be too much. “I didn’t like it,” he said. So he cut the amount in half and added a bit of byrrh – “and I liked it.”

1 ounce pineapple rum

1 ounce Campari

1/2 ounce Averna

1/2 ounce byrrh

Orange peel, for garnish

Add all ingredients – except garnish – along with ice into mixing glass. Stir. Strain and serve into ice-filled old-fashioned glass and serve on the rocks. Or, serve it up by straining into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with orange peel after expressing the oils over the drink.

Q&A

What’s your favorite thing about working behind the bar? I like bartending with different people and having fun behind the bar – doesn’t make it feel like work.

What’s your desert island drink? A Jungle Bird – with aged rum, Campari, and pineapple and lime juices. It’s a little bitter, a little sweet. So it will last you a little longer than some other drinks.

What’s your favorite in-front-of-the-fireplace winter warmer? A Grasshopper: equal parts creme de menthe, creme de cacao and fresh cream. It’s dessert-by-the-fire, 100 percent.

What’s your bartending super power? I’m fast.

What’s your favorite year-round sipper? Beer.

What’s the best break-up drink? Sex on the Beach.

What’s something you wish people knew about bartending? It’s a little more complex than you think.