Sitting down to judge a Negroni cocktail competition, three other judges and I reach a quorum at 11 am before the first drink is served. “A perfect Negroni is simple, straightforward, and goddamn delicious,” I say, attempting to set the tone.” Any major deviations aren’t considered a Negroni,” I continue, as everyone nods in the back of Playground 2.0, ready to blind judge.
But a Negroni competition is all about riffing on the classic, where appearance, creativity, aromatics, and flavor can win a bartender $1500 in scholarships. Previous years, everything from a beer-groni and a Capri-Sun-style presentation have won, this year we have no idea what’s in store.
As they roll out, two are clear-washed versions, almost completely stripping the complex-bitter telltale properties of Campari from the drinks. Then there’s a great coffee-cube version from Rachel Keeney of Pie Society, a smoked-Abuelita chocolate riff from Bradley Eston at Navy Strength in Long Beach, and a stellar cherry version from Richard Henry at Studio of Montage. Then a showstopper happens: one served in a dimple mug, complete with a mosaic hop nugget and grapefruit peel as garnish that had notes of, “yes, I’d drink another one of these.”
The winner, coming from Christian Zamudio from newly opened Twisted Tiki in Santa Ana, slayed with something simple. An IPA-inspired Negroni called the Jabroni that infuses Blinking Owl gin with grapefruit peel and pine-needles; two of the most common hop aromatics.
“A friend of mine gave me a cocktail name first and was like, you should make a beer-inspired version of a Negroni,” says Christian Zamudio of Twisted Tiki in Santa Ana. “It’s a classic Negroni with a bit of an IPA twist,” he continues.
I often say that the Negroni is the perfect bridge-cocktail for IPA fans to gravitate to with their perfect balance of sweet and bitter, and Zamudio concurs. “A Negroni is pretty fucking close, ya’ know,” adds Zamudio.
Turns out, I was right. Simplicity at a Negroni competition still wins. Hop over to Twisted Tiki in Santa Ana and beg Christian Zamudio to stir you up a Jabroni soon.
Twisted Tiki is inside the McFadden Marketplace at 515 N Main St, Santa Ana, (657) 232-3338.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening on June 29th in Anaheim!