The brief video shows an airline nip of Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, one of Campari, and another of Botanist Gin, affixed together in a tight formation via clear packing tape. A hand rotates the Negroni troika on a tabletop before lifting and dumping all three at the same time into a wine glass full of ice. “Crack, crack, crack and pour,” read the caption on the Oct. 3, 2020 Instagram post, the first for an account simply called @togroni.
“It’s a fun thing that’s happening now and it’s making people view the Negroni differently,” says Nick O’Connell, the super-genius behind this cocktail that is equal parts silly and brilliant.
I probably don’t need to tell you that the pandemic has caused ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails to flourish, whether bottled to-go offerings from bars and restaurants, or the canned variety being cranked out by a variety of larger producers. Quite frankly, I find many of the latter category dreadful — cloying, unbalanced, and mostly unnecessary. It’s like, cocktails aren’t that hard to make yourself, right? That’s why I was so excited to come across the Togroni, the real RTD MVP of 2021.
O’Connell, a bearded 29-year-old — who appears in many of @togroni’s posts, pouring his triple-barreled tipple — runs Post Road Liquors, a fine wine store just outside of Boston. It’s his family’s business, with four stores in the area, one of which his brother Mike also runs. One day, Mike called to ask Nick if he was aware that Campari was available in 50-milliliter minis.
“‘Holy shit!’ I thought,” recalls O’Connell. “Right away, I said what we need to do is get the highest-end gin and highest-end vermouth also available in a 50-milliliter, and make a triple-barrel Negroni.”
He immediately ordered a case of Antica nips, one of the few sweet vermouths readily available in the small size. After some gin testing, he opted for Botanist; he thought the Islay gin had a bold, peppery, botanical blend that could stand up to the rich Antica, but even O’Connell admits another attribute was far more critical.
“I just love Citadelle, but it comes in a plastic nip and dispenses two seconds more rapidly” than the other two bottles, he explains. “In terms of videography, Botanist is just better. Though it does make a really bold, big, and fat Negroni.”
The Togroni wasn’t simply designed for Instagram plaudits, however. O’Connell aspired to start a grassroots movement. In early October he taped together 50 Togronis and placed them in the front of his store near the register with a sign above them: “The Togroni, invented here, hand-rolled, why is this not a thing?”
If the pandemic has been the mother of boozy inventions thanks to ad hoc liquor laws, the Togroni would have been legal to sell even in the beforetimes. All O’Connell is really doing is selling three sealed bottles at once — he even created a Togroni SKU in his store’s inventory system — for a quite-reasonable $9.99. For a 5-ounce, all-booze cocktail, that’s a steal in 2021.
“Very soon, within the week, they became a thing, and then they started selling … violently,” O’Connell tells me. Golfers from the nearby country club would drop by and, with the clubhouse bar and beverage carts shut down due to the pandemic, stuff their bags with as many Togronis as they could fit. “It even started to cut into our White Claw business,” says O’Connell, “which is really unheard of.”
Over 100 Togronis were sold that first week at Post Road Liquors, and O’Connell tells me he’s sold 1,000 since (he claims he might sell 40 Campari nips per year otherwise). He quickly started outsourcing production to his girlfriend Libby’s college-aged brother, who would tape together Togronis every night until his hands bled. By late fall, O’Connell’s liquor distributor told him that he had literally drained the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts of Botanist nips; he had to go to Rhode Island and pull some of their inventory.
“Really it’s starting to be a global sensation,” says O’Connell, and he’s not speaking in all too much hyperbole. He even thinks the Italian beverage giant would be smart to commercialize it and he’s been in contact. “I’ve been preaching to Campari that it’s way more than just a cocktail to-go,” he says.
Togronis first spread among New England drinkers, then to Washington, D.C. and the rest of the Eastern Seaboard, California, and even onto Europe, where Togronis have been poured in Brussels and across Italy, naturally. O’Connell thinks they are more than just a whimsical thing designed for Instagram; they are truly the perfect portable cocktail for this era.
Togronis work on the golf course or a ski lift, discreetly pulled out of your purse at a public park, while riding the LIRR or shopping with your girlfriend in the classy part of town. They wow little children and dogs alike. Bold-faced names are taking to Togronis too.
Matt Hranek, WM Brown magazine’s founder and the author of the upcoming book “The Negroni: A Love Affair with a Classic Cocktail,” posted a Togroni ornament on his Christmas tree in mid-December to his 75,000 followers. The famed Charleston-area chef Craig Deihl is a fan. So is model Madeline Adams. Recently, Melissa Watson, the so-called @negroniqueen on Instagram, posted her own take on it.
“[It was] harder to tape the minis together just right than I thought it would be!” she told me. Although she prefers not to use the very flavorful Carpano in her typical Negronis — “It kind of tasted like my early Negroni days,” she joked — she speculated that it, and Botanist, became the official specs for the Togroni because their nips are the exact same height, not because they offer the ideal flavor profile.
Even O’Connell admits he would prefer to make Togronis with Bulldog Gin and Cinzano Vermouth — “They’d be a lot sexier, a lot more lush, and drinkable,” he claims — but the latter isn’t available in miniature.
O’Connell has also attempted a “big guns” Togroni using all 375-milliliter bottles for a large-format cocktail that he enjoyed with Libby one night in the fall. He and Hranek are hoping to do vintage Togronis soon. And there’s always the possibility of branching out onto other drinks as well — any equal-parts cocktail would theoretically work in triple-barrel form, and O’Connell has the perfect one in mind.
As he told me just before we hung up, “I already have the Instagram account @Boulevardaway!”
Published: January 15, 2021