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Negroni Week: tips for easing into the drink

Despite being one of the most popular cocktails in the world, the #Negroni has a long list of people who are not a fan. In addition to being boozy, a big part of its polarization lies in one of its three ingredients, the iconic Italian red bitter liqueur #Campari.

My Campari poster

While the American palate and culinary interests are growing, bitterness is still an element that we are less accustomed to. I remember being at a bar in Charleston with my brother, and when I got my brother to taste Campari, he asked the bartender for a High Life to get the flavor out of his mouth.

Since I am often with people who are getting familiar with cocktails and we're in the middle of Negroni Week, I wondered what steps industry veterans might recommend for people who have had a Negroni before but didn't love it or never have but are willing to give it a chance. The analogy I often lean on is that if you want to draw someone into coffee, it is wise to start them out with a latté or a cappuccino instead of black coffee.

I asked a handful of bartenders and industry veterans for their thoughts. I received a wide variety of recipes and tips, and an article that Kansas City cocktail veteran Ryan Maybee of J. Rieger & Co. wrote but was never published.

What I like about the following is all of these people are experienced at what they do, and yet you'll see them take different stances on what should be done. Some call specifically for or against a vermouth. Some call specifically for Campari or substitute it out. The moral of the story is to experiment and then do what feels right for you.

Prime your palate, Nicola Olianas of Fratelli Branca

What I love about Nicola's advice is he offered a lens on preparing your plate for bitterness. In Italy, bitter items are more common so this is a good way to think about things.

"My recommendation is to have something salty or briny before your first sip. Go easy on the gin the first time. Be sure the drink is very cold, and use a good vermouth. Carpano Antica Formula is what I would suggest."

The predecessors to the Negroni are the Americano (vermouth, Campari, and club soda) and the Milano Torino (vermouth and Campari). Nicola's suggestion of dialing back the gin takes you closer to the Negroni's less boozy ancestral roots.

Tim Wiggins, Bangers Only Consulting

For each of Tim's three drinks, you would add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice for 15 - 20 seconds.

Millennial Pink, 2018

1 oz Rhum JM Gold

1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth

.5 oz Contratto Bitter

.25 Luxardo Bitter Bianco

.25 Giffard Peach Liqueur

Same Drugs, 2017

1.5 oz Whiskey

.75 oz Contratto Bitter

.75 Cocchi Torino

Barspoon Falernum

2 Dashes Regans Orange Bitters

Cynar Negroni

1 oz Gin

1 oz Cynar 70

1 oz Cocchi Torino

Seth Wahlman, general manager, Yellowbelly

Negroni Summer, 2023

1 oz Beefeater Gin

1 oz Strawberry Bordiga Dry Vermouth (freeze-dried strawberries)*

.5 oz Giffard Rhubarb Liqueur

.5 oz Campari

*Sit 1 oz of freeze-dried strawberries in a bottle of Bordiga dry vermouth overnight, then strain.

Jeff Savage, beverage director, Botanist

¡Que Padre!

1 oz Cranberry Infused Blanco Tequila**

0.75 oz Aperol

0.75 oz Spanish White Vermouth (recommend Lustau)

2 dash Orange Blossom Water

Stir with ice until chilled and diluted. Strain over a large ice cube in a rocks glass and garnish with an expressed and trimmed grapefruit twist

**Combine a half bottle of Blanco tequila and two cups of whole cranberries and allow it to sit for two to three days, tasting occasionally, then strain out the berries.

White Negroni, Heather Hotcakes

Heather is a long-time enthusiast and newer-to-the-industry person, like me. She said that she finds the White Negroni to be more approachable. Instead of vermouth, the drink historically calls for the quinine-infused fortified wine, Lillet Blanc, and the French bitter liqueur Suze.

1 1/2 ounces gin

1 ounce Lillet Blanc

3/4 ounce Suze

Garnish with a lemon

"3 Steps to Making a Terrible Negroni" by Ryan Maybee, J. Rieger & Co

If you think you hate Negronis, the odds are high that you had a shitty one. Here are the 3 steps that often happen to make a bad one

  1. Use a bad gin

  2. Use an old, dusty, oxidized bottle of vermouth (note from Chris: vermouth is 75% wine)

  3. Don't measure

If you want to ease into the cocktail, as long as you're doing the opposite of the 3 things listed above, you should be in pretty good shape. That said, here's the recipe I would use:

1 oz London Dry Gin - It's important to use a good quality London Dry Gin because a lot of the newer craft gins may incorporate botanicals that throw off the drink's flavor. This drink is complex enough as it is, and introducing obscure ingredients doesn't help. Suggestions include Tanqueray, Tanqueray No. Ten, Beefeater, Plymouth, or Rieger Gin.

Note from Chris: Ryan is pointing you away from gins like Hendrick's

1 oz Sweet Vermouth - Using good vermouth is vital, but don't use Carpano Antica. You want to use good quality vermouth that's fresh and has been stored properly. Carpano is too big, full-bodied, and leans to the bitter side. Other vermouths straddle the fence between sweet and bitter. Choose sweet. You want to use a more lush, fruity, sweeter vermouth. My favorite is Cocchi di Torino.

1 oz Campari - There is no substitute for Campari when it comes to the Negroni. You can try, but in reality, you should probably change the name of the cocktail at that point. The most important thing here is to measure. Even slightly too much Campari can throw off the balance enough to make people cringe if they're not used to that flavor profile. Balance is key.

With those three things out of the way, stir and always serve over ice, preferably a large cube. I'm not a fan of Negronis served "up". The reason is that it's such a bold, aggressive cocktail that it benefits from slow dilution while drinking it. It becomes more approachable and enjoyable, especially for someone new to the drink. If you serve it up, not only do you run the risk of it not being completely and fully chilled right upon service, but it immediately begins to climb in temperature, making it harder for the drinker to ease into it. Serve it over good ice and let the customer contemplate the complex flavors of the cocktail while continuing to be refreshed by it.

Generally speaking, I hate hard and fast rules when it comes to drinking. But there are a few cocktails that need to be executed perfectly: the #Sazerac, the #RamosGinFizz, and the Negroni, to name a few.


Are you a Negroni enthusiast or bartender with an opinion?

Let us know in the comments.

Negroni Week 2022: Sipping a Negroni at Valerie


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