rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail

Negroni

Recipe

 

  • 1½ oz gin - I recommend Tanqueray

  • 1 oz sweet vermouth - I recommend Cinzano

  • 1 oz Campari

  • orange peel - for garnish

 

Combine all ingredients in a chilled mixing glass. Fill with ice, stir for 18-25 seconds and strain into a chilled rocks glass over ice - preferably one large cube.  Express the oils of the orange peel and add it into the glass.

 

Or you can prepare it right in the rocks glass you'll be drinking from.  Just combine all the ingredients, add the ice, and stir.

 

If you make a Negroni, let me see!  

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Overview

On paper, the Negroni looks like a bit of a mess.  There's a whole ounce of each Campari and sweet vermouth, which adds up to more than the amount of base spirit, gin.  But instead of a disjointed mess, somehow all those contrasting flavors come together in a perfect harmony, with each ingredient blending seamlessly into the next, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins.  In that way, it is something of a cocktail miracle.

 

The Negroni's central element is of course bitterness - courtesy of Campari, the iconic red Italian liqueur - which to be sure, is not a flavor everyone enjoys.  But if there's one place bitterness succeeds, it’s in cocktails, where it add an extra dimension flavor. So if the Negroni is a bit of a shock to your palate at first, I encourage you to give it a chance and take another sip. Acclimating yourself to the pleasures of bitterness in drinks will unlock a trove of cocktail possibilities. 

 

The classic Negroni recipe calls for equal proportions of each ingredient.   I, along with many bartenders, prefer to bump up the gin to dry it out and - let's be honest - to make it boozier.   But that is up to you, it's good both ways.

Commentary

 

Too bitter?  Try Aperol.

If you're looking to take the bitter edge off a Negroni, use Aperol in place of Campari.  Aperol is the gateway bitter liqueur.  It is produced by the same company as Campari (Gruppo Campari), has the same level of sweetness, but half the bitterness with some added rhubarb and other bright fruit flavors.  It’s an absolutely delightful ingredient and can be used in any of the variations below as well (except of course the White Negroni).

Negroni Variations

The Negroni recipe a fool proof cocktail formula. Swap out any of the ingredients and you have a completely new cocktail that's work every time.  Just be sure to stick like-minded ingredients, spirit for another spirit, vermouth for another wine based modifier (Lillet, Dubbonet, white vermouth, etc.) and Campari for another bitter liqueur.   Here are a few of the most beloved Negroni riffs and some extended relatives.

Boulevardier

As you can see this is simply a Negroni with bourbon, though it is a classic in it's own right.  The Bouevardier (Boo-leh-VARD-ee-ay) - a meaning of voguish, socialite type- first appeared in the appendices of Harry MacElhone’s 1927 Barflies & Cocktails. There it is attributed is Erskinne Gwynne, an American expatriate living in Paris, who started a literary magazine bearing the same name as the drink.  The Bouevardier is a heftier cocktail - whereas the classic Negroni is a little lighter on it’s feet - and one that has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years.  I think that's probably because it brings together two things cherished by cocktail nerds everywhere, bourbon and bitterness.  Like the classic Negroni, the original called for equal parts, but a little more bourbon is a good idea.

 

  • 1½ oz bourbon

  • 1 oz sweet vermouth

  • 1 oz Campari
  • orange peel - for garnish

 

Prepare as above.

White Negroni

This transparent counterpart to the deep red classic is an alluring creation of the modern cocktail age.  There are multiple recipes abound - one of the earliest is credited to British bartender Wayne Collins - all of which involve swapping in clear (or slightly yellowish) ingredients for sweet vermouth and Campari.  The result is a Negroni that's lighter, brighter but with all the gravitas of the original.

 

  • 1½ oz dry gin 

  • 1 oz Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano or white vermouth

  • ¾ oz Suze or Saler’s Aperitif

  • orange or grapefruit peel - for garnish

 

Prepare as above. 

Old Pal

This rye-based cousin to the Boulevardier uses dry vermouth instead of sweet, making it a decidedly leaner and drier cocktail. Its inaugural appearance was also in Barflies & Cocktails appendices, where Harry names William “Sparrow” Robertson - sports editor for Paris’s New York Herald and regular at Harry’s New York Bar - as the old pal in question as well as the inventor of the drink.  Today most recipes stick rye whiskey over bourbon and bump up the ratios to 2:1:1 as you see here, whereas it was initially was equal parts.  It is also commonly served straight up. To be sure, a dry, bitter and boozy cocktail such as this is not for everyone, but for those it is, there is nothing better.

 

  • 1½ oz rye

  • ¾ oz dry vermouth

  • ¾ oz Campari

  • lemon peel - for garnish

 

Prepare as above and serve straight up.

Mezcal Negroni

This isn't a classic, just a really delicious and easy Negroni variation.  Similar to when it is used in a Sazerac or Last Word, adding mezcal to a Negroni expands its already expansive flavor profile in wild and unexpected ways.  Yet it also slips into the drink like a glove.  Just one ounce of mezcal is fine. Any more and it starts to take over. 

 

  • 1 oz mezcal

  • 1 oz sweet vermouth

  • 1 oz Campari

  • orange peel - for garnish

 

Prepare as above.

 
 

Lucien Gaudin

The Lucien Gaudin (LOO-see-en gaw-DAN) is like a Negroni through a French lens and one of my favorite obscure classic cocktails.  There aren’t too many other drinks like it.  Sweet vermouth is removed and replaced with Cointreau and dry vermouth, each in proportions equal to the Campari.  This tones down the bitterness and adds a distinctive orange note, which veers the drink into Martini territory making it a satisfying, and quite boozy, blend with the best qualities of two great cocktails.  The original recipe calls for 1½ oz gin, but though I like to bump it up to 2 ounces to cement this as an unequivocal gin drink.  

 

The name was inspired by a French fencer who won gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, the former was held in Paris, which brought him national fame.   The first recipe appears in the 1929 book ‘Cocktails de Paris’ by Georges Gabriel Thenon which credits the drink to Charlie, du ‘Cheval Pie’”and also states that the drink won a prize at the Parisian Barmen Championship of 1929, clearly those judges knew what they were doing.

 

  • 2 oz Plymouth Gin

  • ½ oz dry vermouth

  • ½ oz Cointreau

  • ½ oz Campari

  • orange peel - for garnish

 

Prepare as above, and serve straight up.

Sbagliato Rosa

I created this all-things-pink riff on the Sbagliato for Clover Club’s spring menu a couple of years ago, and while it may be one of the simplest cocktail’s I’ve put together it remains one of my personal favorites.  The inspiration was to showcase two modifiers that were introduced to me that year, Cocchi Rosa - the rosé version of Cocchi Americano which is like a more complex and bitter Lillet - and Cappelletti, which, while wine-based, tastes like the lovechild of Aperol and Campari.   Naturally, this is lighter less earthy than a traditional Sbagliato, showcasing both ripe and dark fruit flavors.   But don't mistake it for a pushover, this drink finishes decidedly dry and surprisingly bitter.  As refreshing afternoon quaffs go, it doesn’t get any better in my book.  

  • 1 oz Cocchi Rosa - can also use Lillet Rosé or Lillet Blanc

  • 1 oz Cappelletti - can also use Aperol

  • 3 oz (or so) sparkling rosé

  • orange and grapefruit peels - for garnish

 

Prepare as the Negroni Sbagliato.

 

Negroni Sbagliato

Sbagliato (spAHg-lee-AH-toh, though in the correct Italian pronunciation the “g” is silent) means “mistaken”.  As the story goes, this drink was created in 1968 by accident when the celebrated Venetian-born bartender Mirko Stocchetto - who just passed away at 86 in 2016 -  was preparing a Negroni and unwittingly grabbed a bottle of Prosecco instead of gin (personally I’d call this a happy accident rather than a mistake. But of course, “Negroni Contento” doesn’t sound as cool).   This is a fantastic low-proof cocktail, particularly for an aperitif.  It's sort of like Negroni spritz.

 

  • 1 oz sweet vermouth

  • 1 oz Campari

  • 3 oz (or so) Prosecco or other dry sparkling wine

  • orange peel - for garnish

 

In a chilled rocks glass, combine the Campari and sweet vermouth.  Add ice and briefly stir.  Top with Prosecco and stir gently once or twice to integrate. Garnish with an orange peel.

rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail
 

A White Negroni.

 
 
 
 

Who Invented the Negroni?

Who indeed.  While the origins of many, if not most, classic cocktails careen about vaguely in the thick fog of drinking history, the Negroni has two competing (and conflicting) tales, both of which claim to identify ground zero. 

 

Count Camillo Negroni, 1920 in Florence?

The story that most bartenders have been telling for decades is of one Count Camillo Negroni, an Italian, who one day while frequenting the Caffe Giacosa in Florence - which is still stands - asked bartender Fosco Scarselli for an Amerciano (sweet vermouth, Campari and soda) but stiffened up with gin instead of soda water.  This drink went on to become popular at the Cafe and thus, the Negroni was born.  

 

Count Pacal Negroni, 1857 in Senegal?

In the last decade there has been a challenge to the Count Camillo account, by the Negroni family themselves.  They maintain its creation should be attributed to Count Pascal Negroni, a Frenchman (gasp!) born in Corsica, the small Mediterranean island situated between France and Italy.

 

Their version places the drink’s inception sometime around 1860 in Senegal, Africa where Pascal, a decorated member of the French Military, was serving as the Base Commander for a French settlement.   By some accounts, the drink was meant to commemorate his marriage.  Eventually it caught on at the local officer’s club and the rest is history.  There is a more hard evidence to support this account, though one big issues with it is Campari wasn’t released until 1860, and Pascal’s marriage was in 1857.  

 

On top of all of this, a recipe for the Negroni by name doesn’t appear in a bonafide cocktail book until 1951!  So whenever it was invented, and by whomever, there was plenty of time for the recipe to be distorted by the game bartender telephone.  So….we just don’t know. 

 

I’m personally fine with the ambiguity.   I am certainly always interested in the past circumstances and efforts that went on to shape our drinking lives today.  But whether we know them for sure, nothing changes the fact that the Negroni is one of the best cocktails ever.  To all who played a role, I raise my glass to you.  

 

You can read a more detailed account of this debate in this excellent article on this excellent site, Drinking Cup, which is where I learned many of the details myself.  

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tom@socialhourcocktails.com Brooklyn, NY

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