It’s Negroni week!

I couldn’t have been more excited to be asked to judge the return round of Mercury’s Negroni Throwdown, this year the kickoff event to national Negroni week. Mercury is Omaha’s home for the Campari-themed event, and owner Clark Ross told me they’ll be running specials all week.

The format of the Throwdown is simple: the drinks are all creative takes on the classic Negroni recipe with points earned for taste, creativity, garnish and the more difficult to define category “chutzpah.” (The crew of judges last night all had their own definition of just what that might mean; for me, it translated as brave, innovative and interesting.)

D’Amato’s maple coffee Negroni tied for the crowd’s favorite, along with the Cara Cara orange Negroni pictured below from bartender John Schendt, who works at Segreto, the Blackstone District’s basement bar under the Blackstone Social.

I had two distinct favorites, and the judges table (an all women judges table, might I add!) and my comrades in judging agreed: Spirit World’s Autumn Spice Negroni packed a punch with its single sage leaf, adding that classic Thanksgiving flavor to an otherwise fairly straightforward version of the drink. And Mercury’s oat-forward, well balanced drink was just excellent — one that nodded toward fall without using any of those more obvious flavors. I hope we’ll find these stellar drinks on both bars’ menus during Negroni Week and beyond.

A final nod to Segreto’s Cara Cara orange drink, one of the crowd favorites, which was like a mix of a Negroni and one of my childhood mall favorites, an Orange Julius, thanks to the addition of creamy egg-based foam.

Negroni week began last night and continues through Sunday at Mercury, 329 S. 16th St.

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