“The strongest element makes its presence felt first – at least the juniper scent of it does. The first taste though, is bitter-sweetness from the Campari, which burrows into your tongue and throat warmly before the gin comes through, only to be tempered by the sweet vermouth.”
-Rachel Roddy, Five Quarters
The Negroni as an Americano needing strength
The Negroni was invented in Florence in 1919 for Count Camillo Negroni. The best cocktails are a mix of something sweet, something bitter, and something strong, and it was his view that his usual Americano (Campari, red vermouth and club soda) was lacking something.
So the bartender’s solution was to add gin instead of soda. And apparently he added a twist of orange instead of the traditional lemon (see Blood Orange Sorbet for another example of how well Campari and orange go together).
It’s an excellent drink… even James Bond (the short story Risico, in the collection For Your Eyes Only) drinks one whilst waiting for a man named Kristatos… hot work we suppose… where does the title of this Bond short story come from? Well, one of the characters tells Bond informatively,
“In this pizniss is much risico”
The correct proportions for a negroni
But I digress….
The standard Negroni is one part Campari, one part red vermouth, and one part gin, on the rocks with the orange twist. James Bond specifies Gordon’s but after reading Michael Dietsch’s excellent blog on the subject I would use Perry’s Tot – a navy-strength gin (57% ABV – the strength at which alcohol can still be fired even if soaked in the spilt alcohol).
Some people – those that really like their gin for example, or perhaps want a drink with a bit more hair on its chest – prefer the two parts gin, one part Campari, and one part red vermouth version. With regard to the red vermouth, you might like to use Cocchi Storico vermouth di Torino NV, a rich and bitter vermouth flavoured with sandalwood, myrrh, nutmeg, bitter orange, star anise and coriander.
No doubt that would have been the case for Arnold – the starlet Marsha Mellows’ husband in Andrea De Carlo’s Treno di Panna who liked his Negroni’s strong and added a twist of his own – a drop of angostura.
“Me l’ha insegnato il barman dell’Harry’s Bar…..Ti averto che è molto più forte di come te lo fanno in un bar. E ci metto solo una goccia di angostura. È una mia agiunta”
-Andrea de Carlo, Treno di Panna
A Negroni needing extra bitters
Clearly Arnold wanted extra bitterness as well as strength. For those who go for the bitter rather than (or as well as) the strength element, there is the option to use Punt e Mes and a few drops of orange bitters for an additional double dose of bitters as well as a more complex orangey depth.
‘Punt e Mes’ meant ‘point and a half’ on the trading floor in Turin – it’s a sweet, coffee-coloured Italian vermouth with the extra ‘half’ being bitter liqueur. It was originally invented when an absent-minded stock exchange agent called out the term in Antonio Carpano’s bar, intending to ask for a vermouth with an additional half-dose of bitters. The name stuck, and the drink is still made by Carpano to… yes, you guessed it… a secret recipe.
And if you want still more bitters, or you are on for a bit of theatre, you can fiddle with the orange garnish by using a flame.
Cut a good sized piece of peel off an orange (just the peel, not the pith under it). Hold it over your Negroni. Using a lighter warm the underside of the peel and then fold and bend the peel. I have to admit I have never tried this, but according to Brad Thomas Parsons in his book, Bitters, the citrus oils will be released and will then:
“ignite in little sparks over the drink”
How, then, to make the perfect Negroni
So, one part Campari, one part red vermouth, and one part gin, on the rocks with the orange twist, and a glass with no stem.
But for an entertaining demonstration, see the YouTube clip at the bottom of this post – not so much for the way of making a Negroni (I think he uses too much ice) but for the handy way of measuring a measure – just recite ‘Bubble, two, three, four’ – no fiddling around with jugs etc, of course it’s all in the proportions. The clip is in Italian, but it’s pretty clear what he’s saying in any language….
“The negroni is a beautiful thing, garnet in colour, sweet-astringent to taste, and decisively highbrow. Drinking it feels like take a sip of Florence, Renaissance frescoes, students swooping about on scooters….”
Victoria Moore, How To Drink
Where to get the perfect negroni made for you
If you want to try a really superior Negroni you can either go to:
- Iddu (44 Harrington Road, London SW7 3ND020 7589 1991) where it’s made with Ophir gin, Campari Bitter, Carpano Antica Formula and mandarin juice
- Bar Termini where no less than three three house negronis, the classico, the rosato (rather good, infused with pink peppercorns), and the superiore are pre-prepared, aged and served in miniature custom-made glasses, without ice to avoid dilution. Both bars are in London.
- Morton’s in Berkeley Square where you can try four different versions of a Negroni. The Boulevardier is made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, Cinzano Rosso and chocolate bitters; the Morton’s is made with Belsazar Vermouth Red, Tanquery Ten and Campari.
- At Bar 45 in London there is a Negroni trolley – from which you can order an aged, a vintage, or a bespoke Negroni… or try out several!
- And you could always try the wonderful Dandelyan bar in the Mondrian hotel, which in 2017 won the award for World’s Best Cocktail Bar. It was conveniently close to the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition which was going on at The Tate, and they concocted a special cocktail menu to support the, mostly, botanical paintings. My BC3 negroni was made with Beefeater London Garden Gin, Dandelyan pollen vermouth, propolis, Ceylon Arrack, Campari and aged honey. BC3 means ‘bees three ways’ – ie the honey, the propolis, and the pollen.
Other forms of Negroni… with grapefruit, using Aperol, with prosecco….
There is also a version with an additional part of grapefruit juice which is called Ciao Bella – watch a wonderful version of Ciao Bella by Goran Bregovic in the bottom video below. The Pig on the other hand makes a sloe gin negroni by mixing 2 tbsp/30ml each of sloe gin, Campari, and red Martini and dropping in three dashes of orange bitters. At the Red Rooster in Harlem, barlady Lisette Tabales makes a bourbon negroni with ½ ounce sweet vermouth, ¾ ounce Campari and 2 ounces of fig and pear bourbon, topped with an orange wedge.
When it’s very hot the ‘Negroni ‘sbagliato’ version (‘sbagliato’ means ‘mistaken’ – or ‘bungled’ in Italian) which substitutes prosecco for the gin in the traditional version is very refreshing…. Alice Lascelles, writing in The Financial Times comments:
“….there’s no disputing the fantastic-ness of the drink, which tastes like a more grown-up version of the Aperol Spritz.”
Fill a glass with lots of ice and add 25ml each of Campari and red vermouth. Add 75ml of prosecco, garnish with a sliver of orange, and treat yourself.
Alternatively, The Blue Bar at The Berkeley hotel in Mayfair serves a Negroni Molto Sbagliato made with its own vermouth, Campari, grapefruit bitters and Laurent-Perrier champagne.
….but if it’s refreshing you want you are probably better off doing the thing properly and using just Aperol and prosecco – two parts to three. I was introduced to the Aperol spritz at the Al Santo caffé in London where I was a regular customer at lunch.
What’s the difference between Campari and Aperol?
What’s the difference between Campari and Aperol – they are both made by Campari after all? Aperol is a bit sweeter with a slightly more mandarin flavour and also rhubarb. Campari has a more woody, bolder bitterness, it’s a deeper, darker red and it has double the alcohol content.
Campari and Aperol are both Italian amari – for more information on Campari follow this link. However since the alcohol content of Campari is more than 15% it is, by EU law, classified as a spirit, while Aperol, with only 11% alcohol, is not. Neither are a type of vermouth which is a kind of herb-infused wine.
More Negroni resources
- For a fantastic sort of frozen Campari cocktail pudding go here.
- for more about Campari, go here.
- And if you want to buy a whole book about the Negroni – buy The Life Negroni, by Leigh and Nargess Banks – lavish illustrations and lots of random facts as well as classic recipes and adaptations.
Negroni timing demonstration
And, as promised, Ciao Bella by Goran Bregovic