Thanks to strategic corporate marketing, and the general irresistibility of Italian-style dolce vita, the Negroni is undergoing a renaissance.
According to legend, a count named Camillo Negroni invented the aperitif in Florence in 1919, combining gin, sweet vermouth, and a branded amaro, Campari. When the 21st-century craft cocktail movement arrived, parent company Gruppo Campari sensed an opportunity. It reintroduced the cocktail and its signature, cherry-red amaro to contemporary consumers, launching an annual Negroni Week in 2013. Countless Negroni products and recipe variations continue to iterate.
When a drink contains just three ingredients, it’s easy to rush through the process. Don’t, say bartenders. Here are five timeless tips for making excellent Negronis.
What to do
1. Measure (all) your ingredients.
Each component in this aperitif packs a lot of punch. Campari is bittersweet, gin is boozy, and vermouth is sweet and herbaceous. Measure each to keep your cocktail balanced and avoid blowing out your palate before you’ve sat down to dinner.
“This isn’t an eyeball drink,” Alex Hammond, head bartender, Tradd’s, Charleston, S.C., says. “Make sure you follow the recipe.”
It’s absolutely kosher to tweak the measurements to suit your tastes, too.
“Personally, I like my Negroni with 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, ¾ ounce Campari,” Keith Meicher, head bartender, Sepia, Chicago, says. “Play around with your ratio until you discover what tastes the best for you.”
2. Choose the right vermouth.
“A Negroni lives and dies with your choice of vermouth,” Meicher says. “Don’t just go with whatever’s cheapest, or, even worse, the bottle that you forgot to refrigerate and has been hanging out in the cabinet above your stove since the Reagan administration.”
Vermouth is made from wine, so it expires more quickly than grain-based spirits. Once opened, vermouth will last approximately one month if stored in your refrigerator with its cap on.
Fortunately, good-quality vermouth is relatively affordable, and many producers offer 375-milliliter “half” bottles. Meicher opts for Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, which starts at $18.
3. Keep it cool.
Bartenders typically serve Negronis in a rocks glass over ice — preferably one large rock — or up, in a chilled cocktail glass. Whichever you choose, make sure your drink is served cold. This is an aperitif, after all, designed to be bright, refreshing, and appetite-inducing.
If you’re out of ice and feel like fixing a room-temperature cocktail, no one’s going to stop you. But we recommend serving it cold. Negronis have a lot of big, bitter flavors, and chilling mellows and marries them.
What to avoid
1. Stir, don’t shake.
“Don’t rush in mixing the ingredients,” Hammond says. “A good Negroni should be stirred lightly so that the flavors meld.”
Pour all your ingredients in a mixing glass with clean ice, Hammond says, and then stir, slowly and evenly. Pour the finished drink into your chilled cocktail or rocks glass. This way, you combine flavors without watering down your cocktail.
2. Ditch the weird garnishes.
The classic Negroni garnish is an orange zest twist. Its gently bittersweet flavor is a good foil for the drink.
“To garnish with a lemon wedge is a heinous crime,” according to Difford’s, “but I am quite partial to a fat orange wedge.”
While we wouldn’t call lemons criminal, they are too sour to complement Negronis’ bittersweet balance. Limes, grapefruits, or cocktail cherries similarly have no place in your Negroni.
If you don’t have an orange lying around, simply serve your aperitif unadorned. Nothing whets the appetite like confidence.
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