Gary (“Gaz”) Regan starting tending bar at the age of fourteen in his parents’ English pubs. So from a young age, he knew working the bar “was a forewritten conclusion.” After crossing the pond and subsequently making a name for himself in the industry, Regan started writing about his lifelong passion. While he didn’t finish high school, he’s become one of the best-known voices in spirits and cocktail writing. His latest work, The Negroni: Drinking to La Dolce Vita, With Recipes & Lore, delves deep into one of the world’s most iconic and storied beverages.
Nearly 30 years after he began mixing drinks, Regan’s journey from mixologist (before such a term existed) to beverage journalist snowballed quickly. After being interviewed for a piece about single-malt scotch in 1990, Regan was approached by Michael Batterberry, the now deceased editor of Food Arts magazine. Batterberry asked Regan to write an article, which turned into a column. Soon after, Regan was approached by a publishing company looking for a book on cocktails and tending bar. A few years later, he released The Bartender’s Bible, the holy scripture of the industry. Next came The Joy of Mixology, The Bartender’s Gin Compendium, Gaz Regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders, and countless other books and articles. “I always enjoyed writing; although I didn’t do it professionally until I was 40 years old, I always dabbled,” says Regan. “I was approached to write The Bartender’s Bible, and things just mushroomed from there.”
Regan’s parents owned two pubs in his native United Kingdom, one near Manchester and another on the northwest coast. That was the bartender’s primary training ground, but when he relocated to NYC at the age of 22, he was forced to relearn his craft. Craft cocktails were not common in England; he quickly had to memorize the popular drinks of the day, such as the whiskey sour and singapore sling.
For nearly two decades, Regan worked across NYC’s spectrum of bars: neighborhood spots, down-and-dirty dives, European pubs, and the cocktail-centric Unisphere Cocktail Lounge.
Regan stepped away from the industry in 1993. Ten years later, he started working on a part-time basis. On Wednesday nights, he’d host organized events at his local in the Hudson Valley, using the occasions to raise funds for Wine to Water, a charity started by Doc Hendley, a tattooed, Harley-riding bartender from North Carolina, that installs water systems in the developing world. Regan now tends bar at the Dead Rabbit every couple months, donating his tips to the cause. He also works with Hendley on an annual program called Just One Shift, for which bartenders across the world are asked to pledge their tips from one night to Wine to Water.
Through his philanthropic work and his annual book, 101 Best New Cocktails, Regan has developed a strong network of mixologist friends. He started reaching out to them when he began working on The Negroni. The book contains 60 different recipes for the cocktail as well as some edible recipes (like negroni ice cream and cheesecake). “My goal is to spread the word of the holy negroni,” says Regan. “It’s a drink that I really love and a drink that has a verifiable history, and it’s got a very colorful history, too.”
The story of the negroni’s conception goes a little like this: Count Camillo Negroni walks into Caffe Casoni, a bar in Florence, and orders an americano (Campari, vermouth, and soda) with gin instead of bubbly water. With that, the classic cocktail came to be. But there’s another Count Negroni: General Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni, whose descendants claim he was the inventor of the beverage. In the volume, Regan describes the minutiae of each origin story, outlining specifics through ample research — turns out one of the counts was also a cowboy in the States. Through his studies, Regan concludes that the bronco-busting, gambling, bon vivant Italian nobleman Camillo Negroni was the true creator of the drink. And Regan outlines the argument through humorous anecdotes and historical documentation. “For years and years, I really believed the story of Count Negroni was something the Campari people made up,” says Regan. “I thought it was a marketing thing.”
Regan’s goal is to spread the word on the famous drink. For enthusiasts, his book contains loads of geeky information on the cocktail. But Regan hopes the tales and variations turn newbies on to the negroni, too.
Excerpted from THE NEGRONI Copyright (c) 2013, 2015 by Gary Regan. Photographs (c) 2015 by Kelly Puleio. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Monica Berg, Pollen Street Social, London
Monica created this recipe when she worked at Aqua Vitae in Oslo, Norway. I first met her a few years ago when visiting the good folk at G’Vine Gin in Cognac, France, where we had some damned good chin-wags and capped off the week with a drunken yoga session at around midnight. She now works at the Pollen Street Social in London, where she can keep a close eye on her beau, Alex Kratena of London’s Artesian bar. I think of them as the royal family of cocktailians in the UK. Back when Monica was still working in Oslo, she noted that the Negroni Cheesecake basically started out as a joke but became a tradition for birthdays and staff parties. Note that the raspberry-infused Campari for the topping must rest overnight, so plan accordingly.
Makes 8 to 12 servings
Topping: 3 1?2 ounces fresh raspberries 2?3 cup Campari 3 ounces raspberry gelatin mix
Crust: 8 ounces graham crackers, crumbled 9 tablespoons butter, melted 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Vermouth Reduction (recipe follows)
Filling: 5 to 6 sheets gelatin 2?3 cup fresh orange juice 7 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature 1 cup sour cream 5 tablespoons powdered sugar, or more for a sweeter cheesecake 2 ounces gin, preferably with strong juniper notes 1 drop vanilla extract 1 1?2 cups whipping cream
To make the topping, put the raspberries in a container with a lid. Pour in the Campari, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Make the gelatin according to the package instructions, replacing a little less than half of the ice water with the Campari mixture. Chill until cold but not set.
To make the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter, and Vermouth Reduction in a bowl and mix well. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9- to 10-inch nonstick springform pan.
Refrigerate the crust while you make the filling.
To make the filling, combine the gelatin sheets and orange juice in a large bowl and let sit until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Add the cream cheese and stir to combine. Add the sour cream, powdered sugar, gin, and vanilla extract and stir until thoroughly blended.
In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Gradually fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.
To assemble the cheesecake, pour the filling into the chilled crust and refrigerate until set, at least 3 hours. Pour the partially set gelatin mixture over the top and return to the refrigerator overnight.
Vermouth Reduction: 1 scant cup Demerara sugar 1 (750 ml) bottle sweet vermouth
Combine the sugar and vermouth in a heavy, nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to simmer. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half (to approximately 1 1/2 cups), about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool before using.