As the Negroni celebrates its 100th birthday, here’s how to take yours up a level
By David T. Smith
During a recent trip to the US, I attended the American Distilling Institute’s third annual Gin Summit where I witnessed a rather unusual debate. The topic? Essentially which is better, the Martini or the Negroni?
At the vote following the debate, the Negroni won and it got me thinking about how this simple, three-ingredient gin drink can be modified; and, with the Negroni celebrating its one hundredth birthday this year, it only seemed fitting to explore further.
Whilst the Negroni has been enjoying increasing popularity of late, for some first-time drinkers its intense combination of bitterness and sweetness can be off-putting, so – to start – here are some variations to gently ease-in new recruits.
Negroni Level – Beginner
The Newbie Negroni
25ml Citrus-forward dry gin
25ml Sacred Rosehip Cup
25ml red Vermouth
Combine ingredients with several ice cubes in a wine glass and add a splash (10-15ml) of sparkling water, before garnishing with lemon and orange peel.
This lighter version of the Negroni is both less bitter and less sweet thanks to the use of the Rosehip Cup; the rhubarb in the cup also adds a pleasant tartness to the drink. A great introduction for Negroni newbies.
The Negroni Slush
100ml Classic dry gin
100ml red Vermouth
100ml orange juice
Add ingredients to a blender with a plentiful supply of ice and blend until smooth. Garnish with grated orange zest.
The result is a soft and fruity drink that really cools you down, making it perfect for hot summer days. The orange juice and ice help to lengthen the drink, making it exceptionally refreshing.
For a more intense drink, forgo the use of orange juice.
For a softer version, fill a glass two-thirds full with the Negroni Slush mix and top-up with cola. This is a surprising combination, but one that is really worth trying; in the words of one taster, “It’s like a grown-up cola slushie!”
A final variation – “The Frosé” – calls for the addition of rosé wine rather than orange juice or cola to blended Negroni. The Frosé is very fruity and easy to drink, but a word of caution: it’s rather potent after a glass or two.
The Pre-Batched Negroni
Perhaps the easiest way to try a Negroni is to purchase one of the pre-bottled varieties. No mixing is required – you only have to buy one bottle and then it’s as simple as pouring the drink over ice and enjoying.
A variety of bottled Negronis are available: The Handmade Cocktail Company and Sacred make some pretty classic ones, whilst 58 Gin make a delicious Chocolate Negroni. For something completely different, try the Jam Doughnut Negroni from Liquid Intellect or the Rhubarb and Custard version from Aske Stephenson.
Negroni Level – Intermediate
30ml That Boutique-y Gin Company Smoked Rosemary Gin
30ml Red vermouth
Stir the ingredients with ice and strain into a tumbler glass, before garnishing with a sprig of fresh rosemary.
The Negroni is a cocktail that works really well with food, particularly when used as an aperitif cocktail before dinner. My ideal accompaniment would be smoked and salted peanuts and maybe some cashews. Given the drink’s culinary connections, it is perhaps not a great surprise that it is complemented by the flavour of rosemary.
15ml Bombay Sapphire English Estate Gin
30ml red Vermouth
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass and stir without ice. Take the serving glass and rub the inside with mint leaves, then discard them. Fill the glass with crushed ice and add the cocktail mixture. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
This cocktail is a cross between the Negroni, its Bourbon counterpart – the Boulevardier – and a Mint Julep. There are mint notes from the fresh leaves as well as the pennyroyal mint from the gin, whilst the bourbon adds chocolatey notes that really complement the other ingredients.
30ml dry gin
30ml red Vermouth
20ml Creme de Cacao or 3 dashes of Chocolate bitters
Stir the ingredients with ice and strain into a tumbler glass, before garnishing with grated dark chocolate.
When it comes to adding chocolate to your Negroni, there are a number of options, including chocolate liqueur (creme de cacao) and chocolate bitters. However, if you can get a hold of Mozart’s Chocolate Spirit, then I’d highly recommend it; you get all of the chocolate flavour without any of the sweetness, making handy for adding an indulgent splash to your Gin and Tonic or for making Chocolate Martinis (by substituting the chocolate spirit for the dry Vermouth).
The Chocolate Negroni is delightfully dark and decadent. The chocolate notes permeate the drink and matches particularly well with the bitterness of the Campari. The Negroni is often made as a pre-dinner drink, but this particular variation works exceptionally well as a post-dinner cocktail or as an alternative to a dessert.
25ml dry gin
25ml pineapple rum
25ml red Vermouth
25ml Campari or A few dashes of Pimento, Christmas or Angostura Bitters
Combine the ingredients in a glass with ice and stir. Garnish with a wedge of pineapple.
Picking up on the current trend for gin in Tiki drinks, this rather delicious variation makes use of both gin and rum.
This cocktail is full of plump tropical notes – pineapple, banana, peach and strawberry – along with the underlying, dark sweetness of molasses, which gradually morphs into the wormwood flavours of the Vermouth before the trademark Negroni bitterness.
Negroni Level – Advanced
After Dinner Negroni
25ml Dry Gin
25ml Red Vermouth
25ml Chilled Espresso or 3 dashes of Cherry Bitters
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice before straining into a Martini glass and garnishing with a cherry.
The rich flavours of the espresso match the bitterness of the Campari, but also a slightly creamy smoothness and hints of cherry, reminiscent of a coffee stout. An exceptionally well-balanced cocktail that is dry throughout, whilst remaining nuanced and slightly fruity; neither just a coffee, nor a cocktail, but truly the best of both worlds.
A rather challenging variation to impress the Negroni aficionado(s) in your life, this is a drink made with equal parts gin, Vermouth, and Campari, but with the characteristic red colour filtered out. It is best to prepare this a few hours ahead of your guests arriving.
100ml dry gin
100ml red Vermouth
20ml lemon Juice
150ml whole milk
Combine and mix all the ingredients, except the milk, in a jug without ice. Add the milk to a saucepan and heat, stirring until boiling.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually add the Negroni mix as carefully as possible. You will notice that the milk starts to curdle, but don’t worry – this is exactly what you want.
Cover the saucepan with a lid and leave for at least an hour; the longer it’s left, the easier the filtration will be.
Strain the mixture through a fine metal sieve (or coffee filter) to remove the curds (and the colour). The result should be a clear, pale straw yellow-coloured liquid. Bottle the strained mixture and keep refrigerated.
To serve: Pour a 50ml measure of the mixture over ice in a tumbler and garnish with a piece of orange peel.
This drink certainly takes more effort to make than the average Negroni, but it’s well worth it – especially to see the look on your friends’ faces when you give them a colourless Negroni.
I hope you enjoy this journey through Negroni variations. It has really given me a new-found appreciation for the potential of creating innovative twists. It’s a drink that has such a defined character, that it stands up to the inclusion of rum, whisky, or even espresso; it’s not surprising that it’s so in vogue – here’s to the next 100 years!