Top 5 Negroni Cocktails in Rehoboth Beach

Refreshingly bitter-sweet, much like the return home from a summer vacation, my favorite cocktail, the Negroni is having its re-emergent day in the sun here in the USA, becoming so popular that it has its own week, happening June 24 – 30, 2019.

The Negroni cocktail is said to have been invented in Florence, Italy. And there’s nothing like a romantic meal to go with your Italian cocktail. Legend goes that in 1919, a dauntless Italian nobleman, Count Camillo Negroni (go figure!) demanded the bartender replace the club soda in his Americano with Gin and so the world’s perfect cocktail was born. In the one hundred years since its invention, many variations on the Negroni have appeared, although the classic Negroni remains the simplest, yet most elusive to reproduce.

On the surface, this should be an easy cocktail to make since it’s a one-to-one-to-one recipe of Gin, Campari and Sweet Vermouth. Having tried to make this at home myself, I can attest that it’s not that easy! You see it’s the precise variety of each component that makes, or breaks, this drink. I suspect also that even if one uses the brands top taste tests recommend for mixing a Negroni, one would assume that the closest to origin of each ingredient one purchases, mixes, and imbibes, then the better the flavor.

There are scores of variations on the classic Negroni interpreted by creative Bartenders world-wide, but the Negroni’s ingredients are not to be messed with willy-nilly by amateurs! Gin is a botanical spirit full of complex flavor. Here’s a fascinating discussion of types of Gin. Vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine, basically wine spiked with brandy, infused with herbs and spices, and sweetened. There are two main varieties: red (sweet) vermouth, which originally hails from Italy, and white (dry) vermouth, which first appeared in France. Sweet vermouth is herbal and rich, with undertones of raisins and prunes. Here’s more information on Vermouth. Campari is, well, you be the judge! You hate Campari until that one moment when you love it and you want to keep it on hand for ever. Then you hate it again and donate the bottle to your office Christmas gift exchange. Technically Campari is an aperitif, or aperitovos characterized by rich, orange sweetness and bitter herbal undertones. A typical sip starts sweet and slowly changes as you begin to distinguish a near- infinite combination of herb and spice flavors, before finally reaching a persisting, pleasant, bitter finish. That’s the theory anyway. Another Italian aperitif, Aperol, similar to Campari is much more approachable in flavor when tasted alone. Here’s more information on Campari and Aperol.

I’ve read exhaustively on taste tests of Negronis using various brands of component gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. The results recommended using a Dry London style Gin such as Tanqueray, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and the Campari branded Davide Campari Milano. I did just this at home, and it did not taste like my favorite classic Negroni listed below.

So, your fearless Author, all in the name of research, ventured out to downtown Rehoboth Beach bars and sampled Negronis. Here then are my Top 5 Negroni Cocktails in Rehoboth Beach. While I have ranked overall 1 through 5, each individual restaurant/bar’s version of a Negroni ranls a Number 1 slot for specific standout qualities. Maestro, drum roll, please…

Blue Hen Restaurant and Bar at The Avenue Inn, 33 Wilmington Avenue. Check that corner bar stool – it’s mine! What else would one expect from the creative team that oversees the bar selection at sister restaurant, Henlopen City Oyster House other than a similar, very adult themed bar selection at the Blue Hen also. They took the Negroni off of the menu at The Blue Hen. However, the bar staff are so good at their craft, that whoever makes their version of a Negroni, it wins my Number One spot for its sheer consistency or classic, simple, Negroni flavors. Order it au natural straight up, or Americanize it with ice for a lighter flavor. Either way, I love it! Fair warning: the taste is so good, you’ll want a second, then a third. It will not end well. Stop at the second sip of your second Blue Hen Negroni for that is exactly when the first kicks in, knocking you off your bar stool.

Houston White Co. , 315 Rehoboth Avenue. An old time pure steak house with a decidedly masculine feel. I don’t eat steak, and the restaurant is as popular with the ladies as the gentlemen, so why do I love Houston White Co. so much? Well, there is the delightful Owner, Meghan Kee, restaurateur extrordinaire – she of Fable fame of course! What keeps me coming back to Houston White Co. even when Meghan is off duty? It’s their interpretation of a Negroni. A blend of gin, Cocchi di Torino vermouth, Campari, pine essence, and orange peel. It’s sweet, bitter, and very complex in flavor thanks to that lovely Cocchi di Torino Sweet Vermouth and that beguiling pine essence! A decidedly adult flavored cocktail – with layer on layer of spicy, floral, herbal loveliness. The most complex Negroni in town I would say. I’m not sure what Gin they use, but am guessing that it’s some local brand from a regional distillery, and not a simple London Dry Gin that makes Houston White Co.’s Negroni my Number 2 Favorite Negroni in Rehoboth Beach, and my Number One Non-Classic Negroni.

Cuvee Ray, 236 Rehoboth Avenue. Officially a wine bar, and well, I’m not much of a wine fan, it’s an acquired taste for me, for sure. However, Owner, Ray was smart enough to bag (pun intended), the very talented Bar Keep Around Town, Rob Bagley as Cuvee Ray’s Bar Manager. Rob has developed a very well though out, and well-balanced bar selection. Naturally there is the requisite huge selection of quality wines. What pulls me back over and over again, however is Rob’s sociable, guest-centric personality, and his wonderful, quirky version of a Negroni. Rob makes his Negroni with Malfy Rosa Sicilian Grapefruit Gin, Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Ambrato, and, shockingly, Aperol, not Campari! The result is light, refreshing, and thanks to that Malfy Grapefruit Gin, sweetly citrus forward in flavor. Rob and Cuvee Ray bag my Number 3 Favorite Negroni in Rehoboth Beach, and my Number 1 Favorite Negroni Re-Interpreted!

a(MUSE.), 44 Baltimore Avenue. Three-time James Beard Award nominee, Hari Cameron, Owner and Chef of a(MUSE) and his bar team led by the enigmatic David Engel have not only crafted a quirky, delicious cocktail menu, but they have not one, but two versions of a Negroni on their menu. Be still my beating, drunken heart! Grab a seat (if you’re lucky) at one of the most beautifully designed bars in town, get David’s attention, and beg him for both Negronis. There’s a classic Negroni, and then there’s their re-ima(gin)ed (get it!), version known as the, “Beach Negroni.” I love both, but if I had to choose (oh, go on then), I opt as usual, or for the first time for the Beach Negroni. Here’s how David makes it: Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, Aperol, Carpano Antica Formula (do not feed to infants), and orange peel. Yes the orange peel definitely adds flavor. It’s not just for fanciness! The real standout in this Beach Negroni is the Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, specifically the sage and lavender with a nice bump of citrus from the lemon. Kudos to Hari and David for selecting a premium Sweet Vermouth for their Negroni – Carpano Antica Formula. This is one Sweet Vermouth that is totally palatable on its own and ranked at 95% by Wine Enthusiast , noting, “Rich, fruity and enticing, this sweet vermouth is warmed with notes of fig and dried cherries, and just faint hints of spiced gingerbread and bitter orange peel.” You can really detect this in the Beach Negroni. While I have the Negronis at a(MUSE) in my Number 4 slot, they are Number 1 for offering a comparison of two Negronis on their menu: a classic, and a version most definitely inspired by this creative restaurant. Great job! Salute!

Chesapeake & Maine, 316 Rehoboth Avenue. At first thought, how could one expect an Italian origin cocktail at a restaurant whose offerings are defined by two East Coast USA regions: the Chesapeake and Maine coastal areas? That’s where Dogfish Head Distilling enters with their own Whole Leaf Gin bringing with it a chorus of spicy flavors singing in one’s glass. Yum! That being said, Chesapeake & Maine’s ‘Negroni’ is typically off-centered and not even called a Negroni. They call it a, “Drink Me Beautiful.” I call it, “A Negroni by any (Other) Name.” It’s composed of Dogfish Head Whole Leaf Gin, Carpano Sweet Vermouth, Green Chartreuse, Orange Bitters, and Campari Rinse. Don’t let the Green Chartreuse scare you. Well done guys! Theirs is a sweet, yet savory complicated, and, yes, beautiful drink. For your off-centered Negroni by any (Other) Name AKA Drink Me Beautiful, I give you Number 1 ranking in a re-interpreted Negroni that isn’t called a Negroni!