The classic Negroni is very much like the Manhattan: it’s a variable and customisable cocktail, as long as the basic recipe (spirit-vermouth-Campari) is respected. One variation is here, from Milk & Honey‘s Mickey McIlroy: the Right Hand. Here, the gin is replaced with a dark rum, and the rum and bitter flavours are drawn together with a few dashes of chocolate bitters. The result is a lovely, rich & interesting drink, with plenty of overlapping flavours. A pal had provided me with some excellent home-made chocolate & Absinthe bitters which proved absolutely perfect. I may actually prefer this to a classic Negroni – the rum is more warming, but this wouldn’t be a great pre-dinner drink, probably too rich. But as something to sip with something salty, or after dinner, it’s a great idea.
50ml dark rum (I used Skipper here)
25ml Italian vermouth
Dashes of chocolate bitters
Stir over ice in your mixing glass, then fine strain into a highball glass with a single large ice cube. Garnish with orange zest, or a dried orange slice as I did here.
Suze, the gentian-first Swiss bitter, is a very useful bottle to have in the drink stock; not nearly as sweet as its Italian relatives, the flavour is dry and distinctively bitter, much more so than even Campari.
Gentian isn’t only found in Size, but here it’s so the dominant flavour, it gives the drink a very mysterious herbal-vegetal quality, quite unlike anything else; a simple shot poured over ice makes a very good aperitif, but too much can give that mouth-puckering feeling brought on by drinking large quantities of tonic water.
In the white Negroni, the combination of the Suze and a dry vermouth gives the finished drink a lighter taste, more herbal and delicate than its traditional and more robust cousin; people who don’t like Campari and might refuse a Negroni on that basis could find this one a more delicate and intriguing introduction; whether or not it’s better is a different debate altogether, but it’s certainly distinctive enough while remaining obviously related to the traditional version.
40ml gin (try a delicate, citrus-forward blend – I used the Japanese Roku brand here)
30ml white vermouth (I used the Spanish Casa Mariol vermut)
Stir the alcohols together over ice, then strain into an old-fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a large piece of lemon zest. Breaking the ‘always add bitters’ rule here, as Suze is herbal enough for you not to need them.
Note: if you like Suze, and I do, then reverse the quantities of the Suze and the vermouth for a more dominant flavour.
Naming cocktails is an odd thing: typically, the barman or establishment that invents a particular combination gets to name that drink (see the Ward 8 for one example). Many stories are known, some are the source of controversy & plenty are lost entirely. With a limited number of ingredients, especially in the classic cocktail era, it’s hardly surprising that some cocktails even come in different recipes bearing the same name: the Derby exists in a number of forms, all named after the famous American horse race.
So what does this have to do with the Negroni, and its many current expressions being offered in bars? The standard recipe, gin, vermouth & Campari is a great combination of strong, sweet and sour, making it a damn-near perfect pre-dinner drink, and its recent resurgence is not surprising. But the twist is that the Negroni itself is a variation – the standard history is that Count Negroni asked his favourite barman to strengthen the regular Americano cocktail by replacing the soda water with gin (most likely because he’d lived in London for a while and picked up a gin habit there), creating the famous mix. But, similar drinks exist, all bearing different names: the Old Pal replaces the gin with whisky, and the other bar classic, the Boulevardier has bourbon in the white spirit slot.
So why are modern Negroni variations not getting completely new names? My guess is that because of the popularity of the standard Negroni, bar staff are wanting to show the connection to the classic drink, whilst trying to do something original. Tequila for gin is a fairly straightforward change, and a basic silver or plata style tequila isn’t going to clash dramatically with the vermouth or Campari. As someone who isn’t completely sold on gin, except in a very dry Martini, the tequila change works very well. But I think the name ‘tequila Negroni’ is a little dull, so I have taken to renaming it the Jalisco Negroni, in honour of the area where tequila production is based. The drink, to my mind, has a slightly fresher taste than the gin version, and benefits from the lightness of the younger style of tequila.
20ml sweet vermouth
Stir the alcohols together in a mixing glass over ice, then strain into an Old Fashioned glass with a fresh single large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel or a stick of cinnamon if you want to be thoroughly exotic.
According to the Speakeasy book from the NY bar, Employees Only, sooner or later, every barman flirts with the Negroni. It is an absolute classic cocktail – a perfect balance of sweet and sour, strong and fresh, dry and citrus. However, I have no great love of Campari (too bitter & sweet for me) , so I have made my drink with the fruitier, more laid-back Florentine bitter, Aperol. The result, in my mind, is a less aggressive drink, which can be served straight up. And it gives the lie to the idea that gin doesn’t play well with other flavours due to the attack of the juniper; the combination here of citrus, juniper and herbs creates a beautifully balanced mixture. Over ice, in a rocks glass, this would make a perfect summer drink. The Speakeasy recipe doesn’t mention bitters, but following the generally good advice that every cocktail recipe needs a splash of something, I added a few drops of my grapefruit bitters. And if you don’t like gin? Substitute bourbon or rye for the gin, and you have another classic: the Boulevardier. Or replace the gin with prosecco or asti spumante, and you have the messed-up drink, Negroni sbagliato. Proportions: 1 1/4oz. of Aperol 1 1/4oz. of dry gin (I used Gordon’s) 1 1/4oz. of sweet vermouth (I used Carpana Antico) Dashes of grapefruit bitters Glass: Large Martini glass Stir the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Serve in Martini glass, garnished with an orange wheel