The Negroni and Its Cousins

IMG_20140130_175123The Negroni is a classic cocktail that has its origins in Italy after World War I, and it features two classic Italian ingredients: amaro and sweet vermouth. It has come to be one of the all-stars of the classic cocktail revival movement.

Amaro is the Italian word for bitter, and amari are bitter liqueurs produced in Italy (or sometimes in France, though the French have different names for them). The Italians were also the earliest purveyors of fine sweet (red) vermouth, while the French were better known early on for dry (white) vermouth. Nowadays, you can find good brands from all over making both sweet and dry vermouth, but the most interesting sweet vermouth still comes from Italy.

The classic Negroni has equal parts gin, Campari amaro, and sweet vermouth–one ounce of each. Campari is distinguished by its bright red color, which originally came from the use of crushed insects. You will no doubt be pleased to learn that Campari stopped using the insect dye (aka carmine dye) in 2006. It has a strong bitter herbal flavor with notes of citrus.

Classic Negroni

  • 1 oz dry gin
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth

Stir and strain into a coupe or small rocks glass. Garnish with flaming orange peel (we’ll talk about that trick another day. If you can’t pull it off, just use a regular orange peel).

The Negroni can have endless variations, depending on the type of gin (or other base liquor), type of amaro, and type of vermouth you use.

A word on vermouth:

The two most common brands of vermouth you will see in stores are Gallo and Martini Rossi. I NEVER EVER USE EITHER OF THESE BRANDS for any drink. In Birmingham, you can get a decent selection of vermouth at Whole Foods, the Western in Mountain Brook, V. Richards, or Highland Package store. Keep your vermouth in the fridge after opening, and it will last a good while.

The first Negronis I ever had used Carpano Antica Formula for the vermouth, but a lot of mixologists say that Carpano is too sweet, and the vanilla notes overwhelm the drink. Similarly, Punt e Mes can be used to add an almost chocolaty herbal flavor to the Negroni, but it may be overpowering for many palates. The failsafe is to use a decent but mild sweet vermouth like Cochi Torino.

As for the gin, I would go with any call-brand London dry gin–Beefeater, Tanqueray, or Bombay are all fine options. I’ve heard of people using Genever in Negronis, which sounds interesting, but I have yet to try it out. I’ve also made some really interesting Negronis using Hendricks.

The Cousins

If you start switching out the base liquor or the amaro, the drink will go by another name. As I said earlier, the possibilities are nearly infinite once you start experimenting.

A close cousin of the classic Negroni is a drink called the Raultini, which substitutes the milder Aperol for Campari. A second cousin once-removed is the Boulevardier, which starts with a Raultini and substitutes rye for the gin. Jack Wyrick, a bartender at Octane and all-around cool person, told me about a nifty variation called the Negroni Bianco, which uses Salers amaro and dry vermouth, along with gin.

All of these variations use equal parts base liquor, amaro, and vermouth. Some mixologists also play around with doing these drinks Manhattan style with 2 oz of base liquor and a half ounce each of the bitter and vermouth. This is a very successful method if you want to get drunk faster, but it loses the essential character that makes it a Negroni, in our humble opinion.