“We have a really expensive Negroni — I think it’s the most expensive cocktail in Sydney right now,” says Kate McGraw, group bar operations manager for the Lotus Dining Group and the woman behind the costly, ’76 Negroni on the list at Madame Shanghai.
The drink, which will see $130 of your hard-earned pay leaving your pockets, comes at such a price because of the ingredients: not one, not two, but all three of the holy Negroni trinity alcohols date from the 1970’s.
McGraw was inspired to craft the drink thanks to a chance taste of vintage Campari a couple of year back.
“I tasted a bottle of Campari from the 1970’s about two years ago, and it was delicious,” she says. “I kept trying to tell people how delicious it was but nobody believed me. It’s a lot more complex, it’s a lot richer — the Campari you have now has a lot more of a slap-you-across-the-face kind of bitterness, whereas this is quite sippable and you get a nice kind of tannic bitterness, but… it has sort of settled down.
“I was trying to explain how delicious it was, and I thought, I’m just going to buy it. And then I thought, what if I made a Negroni with it. And then I thought — what if everything in the Negroni was from the 1970’s? That’s how it came about.”
So the hunt began to gather the remaining 1970’s ingredients.
“We’ve got a 1976 Beefeater in there which has settled down a bit, it’s got this nice aloe vera, really juniper heavy, but not [a] massive alcohol burn. We imported it from the UK, and it’s delicious.
“We’ve got a Cinzano Antica, which has been discontinued for about 30 years, and again, that vermouth has just been sitting there and mellowing out, and gaining richness and complexity. That was a massive find.”
Throw them altogether, and you’re going to get a taste of something most people won’t ever have the privilege of tasting.
So what are McGraw;s tips for playing with vintage spirits? Well, some types of products are more suitable than others, McGraw says.
“With the herbal-driven things, and the wine-based, age gives it time to settle down and mellow out — you see a lot of the big, brassy notes, the bitterness in the Campari or the tannins in the Cinzano, they drop to the bottom. What you’re left with is a much more complex version.
“For certain things it won’t work — like, vodka is going to taste like vodka whether it’s from 1910 or 2010. A lot of gin that has been produced from the 19980’s onwards will taste like gin, but with your herbal liqueurs and especially your bitters, they develop and they mature.”
You can taste the drink yourself at Madame Shanghai, 18 College Street, Darlinghurst.