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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Anatomy of a Negroni

Posted By on Tue, Jun 3, 2014 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
Perhaps it's the constraints or the careful consideration each part requires, but the simpler the recipe, the more complex the results. And the more heated the discussion about the right way to do it.

Take the Negroni, the three-ingredient cocktail that combines equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Decidedly simple, but ask a bartender the proper way to make one and each one will have a very particular opinion.

With Negroni Week, you have six more days to try one of the countless variations on the classic, but here's a breakdown of each part and what effect it has on the drink as you sip.

See also: Drink of the Week: Forbidden Negroni at The Coachman for Negroni Week

Drink of the Week: Before and After Cocktail at Quince

Drink of the Week: Engaging in Some Risky Business at Fog City

click to enlarge A flight of Negronis - LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
  • A flight of Negronis

Sweet Vermouth

Of the three components, this is the most discussed. And the most hotly debated.

"Stop forcing Carpano Antica Formula into my Negroni please!" pleaded Reza Esmaili of Ananas Consulting and Derby Cocktail Co. "It's dry, botanical woods-y notes are perfect for whiskey but too overpowering for the juniper luster of a well-made gin."

Barman Kevin Diedrich thinks it's possible to make heavier vermouths work, but they require some adjustments. "If you go big on the vermouth, then switch the gin...maybe go with an over proof gin to cut through that big body of Carpano [Antica Vermouth]," says Diedrich. "Vermouth needs to have a balance of spice and wine base to balance with the other two ingredients. If you're vermouth is too spice-driven, or smells and tastes too much like oregano or thyme, it's going to dominate the Negroni. I like a little bit of Cinzanno, Punt e Mes, and Dolin in mine."

But beyond the balance, there are also some seasonal considerations to take into account. Former Cantina barman Shaher Misif finds Punt e Mes too bitter for all expect moody occasions. "Generally around the wintertime Dolin is great if you want to thicken up a Negroni and Martini [& Rossi] is perfect for the summertime for a refreshing Negroni on the rocks," says Misif.


Other versions of this Italian bitter of exist, but most everyone we talked to agreed: A Negroni needs to be made with Campari. Considered an aperitif liqueur, the recipe was originally created in Italy around the 1860s with a hearty citrus and gentian elements.

"It has to be made with Campari," says Diedrich. "I'm sorry, substituting with another bitter that's 'like' Campari does not make it a Negroni."

Gin (or the Third Part)

The most versatile of the three parts, the gin (or if you're looking for something lighter, sparkling wine for a Sbagliato) allows you to customize the drink to your taste.

"I pick my gin depending on my mood. Sometimes I want something floral and light, other times I might opt for a bolder richer (even aged) gin," says Fatima Wehidy, lead Bartender at Pesce Seafood Bar.

For Kevin Diedrich, gin matters too. "I like to keep with the big citrus-driven notes of a London Dry Gin," says Diedrich. "Some gins now a days don't even taste like juniper. You need that juniper, citrus-driven gin to balance out the Campari and sweet vermouth."

Melissa Lavrinc Smith of K&L Wines likes to find a gin that balances value along with flavor. "I usually go with something with more citrus notes, and frankly inexpensive, but high quality," says Lavrinc Smith. "Citadelle, Martin Miller, 209, Northshore, etc. I save the St. George for drinking straight or in martinis, or with tonic."

But maybe it all doesn't need to be so serious if you making drinks at home. "So when choosing a gin and/or vermouth for a Negroni at home I like to mix it up and try a new gin and/or vermouth each time," says Brad Peters, bar manager at Hock Farm in Sacramento. "I think every combination brings its own flair to the Negroni."

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