Horses aren’t the only ones off and running during Derby week. There’s also plenty of competition among Louisville’s cocktail shakers. Leave it to Iron Bartender winner Jennifer Pittman of Proof on Main to get into the race with her own entry: a bourbon Negroni, sired by the enduring Italian aperitif.
Traced to Count Camillo Negroni of Florence, the traditional Negroni is a bracing ruby-toned concoction of Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. But with Pittman’s swap of bourbon, it loses its trademark astringency, becoming a little warmer to the taste—more relaxed, more Southern.
In adapting the drink, Pittman adhered to her cardinal rule: Don’t hide spirits with too many flavor elements. “Cocktails are about balance,” she says. “Because bourbon isn’t the only standout spirit in the mix, I used Old Forester. It is a perfect mixing bourbon, neither too sweet nor too spicy, letting the unique flavor of the Campari and bitters shine through.” She also chose Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, prized for its herbaceous, almost botanical qualities.
With the ratio just right, it comes down to stirring or shaking. “I like shaking, although many cocktail enthusiasts will argue with that,” Pittman says. “But I’m of the opinion that if you want that delicate top layer of little ice chips on your drink, which I love, then shake vigorously.”