Monica Berg opens her diary to summer, when watermelons come into season.
We didn’t expect it, but one of our most anticipated seasonal drinks at Elementary every year is the Watermelon Negroni. It might be because this cocktail, more than most, marks the beginning of summer.
It’s super-simple to make. It’s equal parts Tayer x Hepple gin (any London Dry gin can be used), Campari and Martini Rosso – added together in a non-reactive container, and instead of adding dilution, you add 200g of watermelon (cleaned and cut into cubes) per litre of liquid. We leave this to infuse for three hours at room temperature (18°C) before straining off the watermelon. Bottle and keep refrigerated until you serve.
One thing we’ve learned is that this needs to be done daily, as the watermelon infusion changes quite dramatically over time, and in our experience, the flavour deteriorates if left overnight. So we err on the side of under-prepping this drink, as we’d rather run out than be left with too much.
It’s on the menu from early to mid-June until the end of July, when Italian watermelons are available. The juicy, fruity and fresh flavour matches perfectly with the bittersweet, botanical notes of the Negroni. To us, it’s really the perfect flavour of summer.
But more than that, I think this cocktail nicely frames the conversation around seasonality and, in a sense, challenges the traditional thinking around drinks making. Let me explain. If you think about the Negroni as an equal three-parts drink (or your preferred proportions) of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, served on ice with an orange slice garnish; the boundaries have been set. Any departure from this automatically disqualifies the drink from being considered a Negroni and the conversation is finished.
But if you look at the flavour DNA of the drink – a bittersweet and spirit-forward drink with a herbaceous backbone – then all of a sudden, it becomes the beginning of our conversation, as now there are endless possibilities to customise the drink. If you want more earthy notes, swap the gin for tequila; for a warmer and richer direction go to bourbon; to achieve a drier profile swap the sweet vermouth for a dry – you get the idea.
Our Watermelon Negroni sees a layer of seasonality added to the conversation. But in colder months, it could be ingredients such as rhubarb root, vetiver or chinotto, while, once watermelon is out of season, the summer months will often see fragola grape or raspberry. This is, of course, not limited to the Negroni. If you have ever visited Elementary, you’ll know that this is the essence of our seasonal menu, where we take classic cocktails and use them as a canvas to express the best of what the season provides. The menu changes continuously, with drinks coming on and going off depending on the availability of the ingredients, but also listening to the feedback of our guests.
It’s interesting how, when you get used to working in this way, you can almost ‘feel’ when a drink has overstayed its welcome, and it’s time to go. Knowingly or not, people’s tastes move with the seasons.
But right now, at our bar, it is watermelon’s moment and that means Negronis but also watermelon wine. It can be a tricky fruit to work with though – outside of its whole form, it can often come across as a bit synthetic or candy-like in flavour. Not handled well, it can end up flat and one dimensional, which is why we rarely use it in Tayer as a singular expression. But when it works, it works, and to this day, my favourite watermelon drink is the Watermelon + Sandal from last year, where we paired the green and bright notes of the watermelon with the earthy, powdery cool of the sandalwood.
As a contrast, my least favourite memory was when we had to throw out 30 litres of four weeks-in watermelon wine because the seal had come loose and it went off. But this is again the unpredictable nature of working with nature – and as always, mistakes are always the best way to learn.