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If you’ve visited some of Rhode Island’s great cocktail bars over the last decade, there’s a good chance Jesse Hedberg was the one shaking your drink behind the bar. From Fluke in Newport to Providence’s Dorrance, Cook & Brown Public House, and Courtland Club, he’s been involved with them all.
Today, Hedberg is a partner at Pizza Marvin in Providence, where throwback hip-hop tunes are typically playing from the speakers, and blue- and purple-tinted lights lend a new-age vibe to the pizza parlor at night. Along with their creative pies, Hedberg has overseen much of the shop’s beverage program where they are canning and bottling on-site.
Many of the cocktails are seasonal and range from $9 to $13 per can or bottle (which equals about two cocktails). But one classic with a curious twist has been a staple since the shop opened in 2020: a Negroni that uses pepperoni grease.
Yes, you read that right.
Hedberg told me the Pepperoni Negroni ($12) was the first cocktail he conceptualized for the restaurant, but didn’t think it could actually be pulled off.
“I really wanted to take everything I ever knew about running a cocktail program and flip it on its head,” said Hedberg. Fat washing is an old perfumer’s technique: something flavorful but oily is infused into alcohol and then frozen. The fat separates and rises to the top so it can be scraped off. Bartenders have adopted the technique. So if you’ve ever had a maple bacon Old Fashioned, this is likely how the flavors got into your drink.
Hedberg swapped bourbon and bacon for pepperoni to make the Negroni, which originally derives from Florence, Italy, and traditionally includes Campari, sweet red vermouth, and gin.
”You can taste the meatiness, the spicy notes that really come from the seasonings with the pepperoni,” said Hedberg. “It’s got great savory notes, lower ABV, that’s food friendly.”
”I knew this was going to be a polarizing drink. I mean we’re not accustomed to drinking meat,” laughed Hedberg. “But this is such a cool drink. It’s just an absolute novelty.”
Hedberg gave me the recipe to share so you can try making your own pepperoni Negroni at home. Let me know if you try it (send photos!) by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ingredients for the pepperoni gin:
- 6 pepperoni sticks
- 1 liter of London dry gin
- Dice or grind the pepperoni sticks into small pieces.
- Cook the pepperoni on low, stirring constantly, until it renders all its grease and the pepperoni becomes crispy.
- Once completely rendered, strain the grease through a cheesecloth or coffee filter.
- Add 6 ounces of the liquid pepperoni grease to a liter of London dry gin and shake vigorously.
- Let the mixture sit out at room temperature, stirring every 15 minutes.
- Cover and put it in the freezer overnight.
- By the following day, the grease will have mostly solidified and risen to the top. Remove the grease and strain the rest of the liquid through a coffee filter or cheesecloth at least twice. It will be completely clear when done.
- Your pepperoni gin is now ready to use.
For a single Negroni:
- 1.2 ounces of pepperoni infused gin
- 1 ounce Dolin sweet vermouth
- 3/4 ounce Campari
- A barspoon full of simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
Combine in a mixing glass with ice. Stir well. Strain over an iced-filled rocks glass. Serve with an orange twist.
Tip: Negronis are typically equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. But because Hedberg likes the roni flavor to come out, he recommends using a bit more gin and adding a splash of simple syrup to balance it out.
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