In my last post, I wrote about gin cocktails at Eleven Madison Park. Many of my cocktail friends know that I’m a latecomer to the Negroni, having not been a particular fan of Campari in the past, which is a key ingredient. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t been a good fit with my taste. But to me, the highlight of my afternoon at Eleven Madison Park was the Negroni cocktail, so I thought it would be worth a bit more discussion.
As I started to write about this cocktail, my mind went to that joke about The Aristocrats? Content of the joke aside, the idea is that every comedian has their own version of the joke, and having a version of your own is seen as something of a secret handshake among comedians. I think the Negroni is the Aristocrats of the cocktail world. It’s a perfect template, but everyone has their own version.
The commonly accepted template is based on the following:
1oz sweet vermouth
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir well, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange twist.
A few words about ingredients: this is a cocktail where the gin you choose matters. The other flavors in the drink are dry and bitter, and I prefer to use a gin that complements that profile, like Beefeater. As much as I love Plymouth, I find it a bit too aromatic and floral for a Negroni. But again, this is a drink made to be tailored, so experiment. Same goes for the vermouth – I use Carpano Antica, which I can’t recommend highly enough as a must-have vermouth (so much so that I enjoy drinking it on its own over ice). I’ve heard many enjoy Punt e Mes as well. But the vermouth here is a key and primary ingredient, not a subtle modifier. Don’t use the $4/bottle stuff.
As for variations: certainly you can change the proportions. I’ve tried 2oz gin, 1oz vermouth, 1/2oz Campari. David Wondrich’s recipe in Esquire calls for 1.5oz gin, .75 vermouth and .75 Campari. At the Eleven Madison Park event, head bartender Leo Robitschek used 1.5oz Beefeater gin, 1oz Carpano Antica vermouth (a key touch, I think) and 1oz Campari. You can also change the technique a bit, by shaking instead of stirring. That sort of violates the rule of thumb that says that booze-only drinks are meant to be stirred, and shaking is reserved for cocktails with citrus, sugar, etc. But I’ve seen it done often, so it bears mentioning.
You can also play with the ingredients. Consider substituting another bitter element for the Campari, like Cynar, Fernet Branca or Gran Classico. You could substitute a Dutch-style genever like Bols for the gin, or perhaps Ransom Old Tom gin, which is pot stilled and more aromatic. You could even substitute bourbon for the gin, technically making it a Boulevardier, but a close relative nonetheless. Want to get truly experimental? The East Village cocktail bar Amor y Amargo (a joint-venture between Bitterman’s Bitters and the team that brought you Death & Co and Mayahuel) includes a “Bartender’s Choice” Negroni on their menu. They’re sure give you a unique variation!
Anyway, you get the idea. The Negroni is a cocktail just begging for experimentation. But regardless of its variations, it’s one of the more refreshing cocktail choices you can make as the summer months begin, especially if you’re of the “not too sweet” persuasion.