The Negroni: Three Ingredients, Endless Possibilities

June 3, 2018

An easy-to-remember ratio. Equal parts. One each of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Stirred over ice, served up or on the rocks. It is a drink one can have either before as an aperitivo or after dinner as a digestivo. I tend to have it before dinner with snacks like olives or other antipasti, but after a big feast (like say, Thanksgiving), it does the body good. The drink has a little of everything:  sweet, bitter, booze. What else do you need? Meet the Negroni!

Origine del Negroni

The Negroni cocktail has had a resurgence in the past decade; particularly in the past few years. But its origin, which has a conflicting story (as is the norm), dates back to just shy of 100 years. The one story most experts peg as the true beginning starts with a cocktail made for Americans and an Italian Count named Negroni.

The Americano

The journey of the Negroni begins with the Americano cocktail, but since that drink was itself a spin-off of the Milano-Torino cocktail, we’ll start there. The Milano-Torino, or Mi-To as it is sometimes called, is a drink made with equal parts Campari & sweet vermouth. Milano is home to Campari, a bitter digestivo, hence the first part of the name. Torino is the place where the first commercially available vermouth, Carpano, was created in 1786. This drink was served as equal parts of both.

The Americano cocktail, fashionable in the early twentieth century, gives equal measure to club soda, Campari, and vermouth, (and for the Italians, it was a given that this meant sweet vermouth). Count Camillo Negroni, fresh from his travels to the American wild-west made a simple request to his barman upon his return to Italy. His request? That his Americano be made stronger. A legendary drink was born when the club soda was replaced with gin.

Negroni Cocktail


A quick word on Campari

To talk about the Negroni without a quick word on Campari would be a sbagliat, meaning “mistake” (more on that later).

Campari was created circa 1860 by a Lombardy-born man named Gaspare Campari. He worked his way up to barman in a cafe in Torino before moving to Milano where he created his renowned bitter concoction. His namesake bitters was first known as Bitter all’usa d’Holanda and its ingredients have never been disclosed other than to say that “it is the result of an infusion of bitter herbs, aromatic plants, and fruit in alcohol and water”. To use another bitter in a Negroni instead of Campari such as Tempus Fugit Gran Classico, Luxardo Classico, or even Aperol can lead to a bitter debate indeed. We won’t jump in on the matter other than to say, if it tastes good, that is all we require.

The Negroni & Variations

The Negroni, like the Old-Fashioned, can be a new drink each time it is made by simply changing the brand of gin. Making subtle changes like swapping out the brand of vermouth is a fun game too. The vermouth category has exploded with new brands, particularly in America, with regional brands increasing in availability and popularity. No need to just keep it to the standard Italian sweet vermouth brands; mix it up a bit!

Cocktail Recipe: Negroni

– 1 oz gin (try Beefeater or Junipero for a classic London Dry backbone or try Hendrick’s or St. George Dry Rye for a modern change of pace. The possibilities are endless.)
– 1 oz sweet vermouth
– 1 oz Campari

Add ingredients along with ice into mixing glass. Stir. Strain and serve into ice-filled old-fashioned glass if serving on the rocks. If serving up, strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with orange peel in either case.

Negroni Cocktail


Cocktail Recipe: Boulevardier

And now for something completely different; change the gin to another spirit altogether.  Replace the gin with bourbon and you’ve got a Boulevardier, a cocktail which dates back to the 1920’s.

– 1 oz bourbon (try Larceny or Buffalo Trace)
– 1 oz sweet vermouth
– 1 oz Campari

Same as above, but generally served up (meaning shaken or stirred with ice, strained into a glass and served without ice.)

Cocktail Recipe: Old Pal

Also dating back to the 1920’s, this Negroni variation subs the gin for rye and also uses dry instead of sweet vermouth.

– 1 oz rye (try Woodford Reserve Rye or Rittenhouse)
– 1 oz dry vermouth
– 1 oz Campari

Served either up or on the rocks. Try a lemon twist as a garnish here.  

Negroni Cocktail


Cocktail Recipe: Negroni Sbagliato

How about instead of gin, you’d like to use sparkling wine instead? Well then you, my friend, are having a Negroni Sbagliato (mentioned earlier to mean “mistake”, but a delicious one at that.)

– 1 oz sweet vermouth
– 1 oz Campari
– 2-3 oz sparkling wine like Prosecco.

Build in an ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Serve with orange wedge.

There are countless other variations to try including a Oaxacan Negroni which uses mezcal or even a White Negroni made with dry vermouth and Suze, a French gentian bitter. These and many more variations are included in Gary Regan’s The Negroni: Drinking to La Dolce Vita, with Recipes & Lore, an indispensable book used for this article. And if you’ve not had a finger-stirred Negroni, ideally made by Gaz himself, I urge you to give it a try!

Update: June 4th-10th is Negroni Week! During this week, participating bars all around the world make Negronis and contribute the proceeds to charities of their choosing! You can learn more at the Negroni Week website.

Thirsty for a Negroni?

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