Americano / Milano-Torino.
Not to be confused with the warm drink (a perfectly good espresso completely ruined by the addition of hot water*), the Americano is a mixed drink that has a difficult time of things. Like its namesake it’s all too easy to see as a watered down Negroni and its spiritlessness can have the effect of leaving it out of much cocktail discourse. But, make no mistake, the Americano is a really rather superb drink. We don’t doubt that Count Negroni’s substitution of gin for soda water was a genius move but there are times when a Negroni is simply too much. The Negroni is a drink that repairs the world after a difficult day and sets one up for a relaxing evening or a good meal but the Americano – despite the similar formula – is almost the opposite: The Americano will pick you up and put a spring in your stride making it the perfect drink for when you still have things you need to do. As such it makes the ideal lunch drink being refreshing, appetizing and relatively light in alcohol. Indeed, that is precisely its role in Italian culture.
Originally created at Gaspare Campari’s cafe in the 1860s, the Americano is almost as old as its key ingredient although the name itself is not. For the first half of its life it was known simply as the Milano-Torino after the cities of origin of the ingredients. Legend has it that it was renamed during prohibition to reflect its popularity with thirsty American tourists. While I’m no linguist, I suspect there is also a bit of a play on words going on there too with amer/amaro being French/Italian for “bitter”.
The Americano should be served in a tall glass for two reasons: To preserve the fizz and to avoid the assumption that it is just a Negroni Lite™. There is some variation in Americano recipes, perhaps unsurprising for such an ancient drink, but the general consensus is for equal proportions of Campari, Italian vermouth and soda water – and how we love equal proportions, right? This being established the next question is exactly how much of those ingredients to pour. To me that depends on the time of day. For lunch an ounce and a half of each is plenty, with perhaps a little extra soda water. In the evening a strict 2/2/2 pour is de rigeur or should that be di rigore? Either way the Americano is simplicity itself to prepare requiring just a tall glass full of ice, a slice of orange, three commonplace ingredients and the gentlest of stirs. The Americano opens up the flavours in the Campari and vermouth in a way that the gin-soaked Negroni simply can’t. And, thinking about it, that makes perfect sense. We add add a little water to whisky or even gin to “open it up” and taste the flavours more fully and exactly the same principle applies here: We experience the full complexity of the Campari; bitter orange, rhubarb, gentian and the mild sweetness and botanicals of the vermouth. Magnifico!
2oz / 60ml Campari.
2oz / 60ml Italian vermouth (I like to use an ounce each of Punt e Mes and Dolin).
2oz / 60ml soda water.
Pour into a Collins glass filled with ice and stir very gently to combine. Add a slice or twist of orange. I serve without a straw or stick to prevent the drinker bludgeoning the fizz out of it.
Toast Gaspare Campari, creator of both Campari and the Milano-Torino/Americano.
Note: For a lunch Americano I suggest 1.5oz / 45ml each of Campari and vermouth and 2-3oz / 60-90ml of soda.
*I’m a coffee snob as well as a cocktail snob.