WEEKEND WITH HEMINGWAY – PART 11: Americano
The Americano is an easy cocktail to make with equal parts of Campari and Sweet vermouth with some soda water. Originally known as the Milano-Torino (Campari coming from Milan and Vermouth from Turin). It was reputedly first served in the bar belonging to the inventor of Campari, Gaspare Campari, in Milan in the 1860s.
Made from secret ingredients, Campari is part of the group of drinks called Aperitif bitters. Bitters have long been regarded as having health properties, not least in helping the digestive system. In fact, many Americans developed a liking for Campari during prohibition as the government made it available on prescription.
Our simple Milano-Torino probably became known as the Americano in the early part of the 20th century as a significant number of Americans moved to Europe at the end of the First World War to enjoy the cheap living and, during prohibition, the access to alcohol.
50ml sweet vermouth
Fill a highball/Collins glass with ice, pour in Campari and vermouth, top up with soda water, stir gently and garnish with orange peel
At the age of 18 Hemingway entered the First World War as an ambulance driver in Italy. His eyesight was bad which kept him out of a military unit. However, the Red Cross was recruiting men who were ineligible for active service and Hemingway saw his chance. After only a few weeks he was seriously injured in a bomb blast. The man in front of him died instantly and the man next to him lost both his legs. Hemingway carried the injured man 150 yards to safety for which he was given the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor.
However, it was during his six months convalescence he was probably introduced to Campari. He later told of an Englishman who would visit him in hospital and bring him alcohol. He soon suspected homosexual intentions and the relationship ended.
In his writing the Americano appears in a couple of places. In The Good Lion (see entry for the Negroni), the lion is from Venice but lives in Africa where bad lions eat Hindu traders and their wives. However, the good lion would, “ask politely if he might have a Negroni or an Americano…”
It also makes an appearance by default in Across the River and Into the Trees where Hemingway describes an Americano but calls it a Negroni.
I first had this drink at the Bulletin bar in Sydney. For a number of years the Negroni has been my “go to” cocktail. However, in order to make my nights last longer I thought I better go for something a little less heavy on the alcohol. The Americano is without the gin and a lot lighter. It is perhaps more of a daytime drink but as long as you don’t put in too much soda water it is packed with flavour.
Drinks including bitters can be an acquired taste. Although many people have their bitters based drink straight up in a cocktail glass, I prefer mine over ice. The ice has an important job to do in gradually breaking down the bitter taste without losing the flavour.
Long before we thought of vodka Martinis, shaken not stirred, the Americano was the first cocktail to appear in the hands of James Bond in the novel Casino Royale. He is sitting in the bar at the Hermitage Hotel in Monte Carlo waiting for Mathis and Vesper Lind (the character who gives her name to the Vesper – the best kind of Martini) when he orders one.
I recently had one with some American friends in Venice who told me they were cautious about ordering an Americano in Italy as they have been served coffee instead of a cocktail. Buyer beware!