The rocketing popularity of the iconic Italian spirit Campari, plus a newfound willingness to experiment and diversify with our drinking habits, has resulted in vintage cocktail negroni emerging as the drink of the moment. It’s a divisive one for sure – Campari itself is an acquired taste, being a deeply bitter and lurid spirit and once the reserve of dusty cocktail cabinets – but the 1:1:1 ratio of negroni leaves it open to adaptation. Try our top tips for making the ultimate negroni and our favourite tasty variations.
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A brief history of negroni
The negroni is an adaptation itself – of the Americano, a simple blend of Campari, vermouth and soda. Story goes that the drink was invented in Florence in 1919 when Count Negroni asked for a slug of gin in his Americano in place of the soda. So the aromatic and dangerously alcoholic negroni was born, and thence adopted by Italians as an appetite-building pre-dinner drink, or a palate-cleansing settler for afterwards.
The drink has been seldom tampered with in the near-century since it was born. It’s now a super-modish choice in hipster pubs and enthusiastic cocktail bars, where whole negroni menus are emerging, but the basic blueprint remains the same – making it an easy cocktail to whip up at home.
How to make the perfect negroni
Start with your three spirits – Campari is simple enough, but there’s a whole world of gin and vermouth to choose from. With the latter, bar manager of the Polpo restaurant group, Tom Ross, recommends sweet Cinzano rosso (red) vermouth, or Punt e Mes – or a combination of both. Keep in mind, although vermouth doesn’t go off as quickly as wine, vermouth has a shelf life of about 6 months once opened. Don’t treat it like absinthe or angostura which will last much longer.
Go for a clean, classic London dry or navy strength gin – take note of the botanicals and tasting notes and go for one for a strong finish to take on the forceful Campari.
Fill a short rocks glass with ice – if you want to really show off, try to source a mould for large, round ice cubes – then layer up the three components. Tom likes to add gin first to enjoy the colour change as the darker spirits are added. He then gives the three shots a quick spin using a thin bar straw or spoon, adds a slice of orange then serves. Some people prefer to add pared orange zest, but Tom likes the addition of the citrus flesh.
As the ratio is set, you can go as little or large as you wish, but for one serving we’d go for a 25ml shot of each component.
Try out best ever recipe for the classic negroni, using the finest fresh ingredients.
Alternative negroni recipes
Play around with ratios according to palates – some people prefer less Campari and a touch more of mellowing vermouth.
Polpo serve a ‘sbagliato’ or “mistaken” negroni, with prosecco added in place of gin, but Tom says the variations are infinite. He recommends the Boulvardier, with bourbon instead of gin, and The Old Pal, in which gin is switched for rye.
Try our slightly sweeter sherry negroni to soften up the classic serve or the punchy El Pastor mescal negroni for a decadent tipple.
You may need to find a more niche supplier, but there are endless choices of vermouths on the market. If you find the flavour of Campari too intense, try the more subdued, sweeter Aperol. Or, if you’re one for obscure spirits, try to source Cynar – another Italian bitter liqueur made from artichokes.
Whatever your choice, serve with a bowl of home-marinated olives and herby focaccia. Cincin!
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What’s your take on the negroni? Can you handle the bitter tang? We’d love to hear your thoughts. For more cocktail recipes and drink guides, visit our cocktails & drinks page.