Supposedly the brainchild of Italian count Camillo Negroni, who reportedly liked to make his Americano cocktail (Campari and sweet vermouth) stiffer by adding a slug of gin, the Negroni is the cocktail perhaps most associated with Italy. Lucky for you, if you want to enjoy this little bit of Italian heaven yourself, the recipe could not be easier: it’s simply equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.
From there, however, you have many decisions to make. What sort of gin? What brand of vermouth? Served on ice or up? There’s no doubt it’s pretty easy to make a serviceable Negroni, but what if you want to achieve Negroni perfection?
The Campari is a given. Manufactured in Italy using a secret blend of herbs and fruit, it is recognizable by its bright orange-red color and somewhat bitter flavor with an undertone of fruitiness. If it’s not made by the Campari Group, it’s not Campari. For the vermouth and gin, however, you’ve got some choices to make.
As in all things, using the best-quality ingredients is key to the results—and that goes double when you’re making something as elemental as a Negroni. You can pick up a bottle of inexpensive sweet vermouth at your local liquor store for no more than $10 or so, but for the truly perfect Negroni, consider splurging on a better bottle of vermouth, which will add more complex notes to the drink. We’re fans of Carpano Antica, a very assertive and complex vermouth with notes of vanilla and on the sweeter side, which balances the bitterness of the Campari. However, the slightly less expensive Cocchi Vermouth di Torino—which you might have to seek out at a liquor store—is possibly even a better choice. With notes of cocoa and citrus, it’s a less sweet choice for those who aren’t afraid of a little bitterness in their Negroni.
Gin is very much a matter of personal choice. Gins vary widely, from those that are barely more aromatic and flavorful than vodka to others that will wallop you with pine, juniper and other assertive flavors. Since the Campari and sweet vermouth both add so much flavor to the Negroni, consider a gin that’s fairly mild You don’t want it overpowering the stars of the show. Very light, floral gins, like Hendrick’s, tend to get overpowered by the muscle of Campari, while very intense juniper-flavored gins, like Junípero, can distract from the Negroni’s other ingredients. Try a gin that’s in the middle of the road to let the other ingredients shine without completely fading into the background. Tanqueray—inexpensive and easily available—is a good place to start. Once you’ve tried Negronis with this gin, expand your horizons and taste a variety of your favorite gins in the drink until you’ve settled on the one that floats your boat.
Super easy to make, the Negroni only requires mixing its three ingredients thoroughly with ice to get the drink bracingly cold. Surely none of your guests will complain if you throw everything in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously until the drink is well chilled. However, experienced bartenders will tell you that drinks that are made entirely with spirits, without fruit juices or other mixers—think martinis and Manhattans—are best stirred rather than shaken to maintain their clarity. Heaven forbid your drink should be clouded with shards of ice! So, for the ideal Negroni, combine all three ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir them well with a bar spoon, and then strain them into your serving glass.
To ice or not to ice, that is the question. Many prefer to strain their Negroni into a chilled cocktail glass, and certainly that’s a fine choice. There’s nothing that makes one feel more sophisticated than drinking a well-made drink from a beautiful martini glass. However, we like to sip our Negronis slowly, nursing them for a long while during the pre-dinner hour with a few savory nibbles, and the only way to ensure the drink remains bracingly cold for a long while is to serve it over ice. But, in order to make sure the drink doesn’t get diluted, your best option is to serve it in in a double old-fashioned glass with one very large cube of ice. When you get minimal dilution plus a drink that that remains ice cold, you have achieved Negroni nirvana.
A Negroni is such a thing of beauty that you could just serve it as is, simply strained into a glass and drunk ice cold. However, Campari has an unusual affinity for oranges—in fact, Campari and orange juice is one of the most popular ways to serve the spirit—so why not take your drink up a notch with a bit of orange flavor? You could simply dunk a half-moon orange slice into your drink, or twist a bit of orange peel over the drink and drop it in. But, if you’re going for Negroni perfection, increase both the drama and flavor by flaming an orange peel over the drink. Using a paring knife, remove a strip of orange peel about an inch wide and 2 inches long from a thick-skinned navel orange. Light a match over the drink, then sharply bend the strip of peel in half, propelling the oils from the peel through the flame, which should cause the flame to flare. Afterward, drop the orange peel into the drink. Not only will this show of cocktail pyrotechnics impress your guests, but it infuses the drink with a gorgeous aroma of toasted orange, which will enhance the drink at every sip.
Ready to put your Negroni-making skills to the test? Start with our version here.