The Flight of the Negroni

The Flight of the Negroni

The Negroni is indomitable. Attack it with skewed ratios, and it rallies. Violate the ingredients, and it stubbornly persists. I can’t think of another drink that you can screw up so thoroughly and still enjoy the result.

This history of the Negroni is disputed, but probably dates to 1919, where the Americano was stiffened by substituting gin for the soda water. Regardless of exactly who created the drink and when, the Negroni is the King of bitter cocktails. If you spy a bottle of Campari on the backbar, the bartender probably knows how to make a Negroni.


1ozSweet vermouth
1twstOrange peel (as garnish)
Stir, strain, rocks, lowball. Garnish with orange twist or flamed orange peel.

To challenge my ability to ruin a simple, innocent cocktail, I set about testing a variety of base amari:

  • Campari – the gold standard, and the definitive choice
  • Luxardo Bitter – the red, cheaper, harder-to-find alternative
  • Gran Classico – the new Swiss entry with a distinctive profile and golden hue
  • Cynar – the popular, brown distant cousin to Campari, included because it's awesome

First, an admission about sugar. I’ll happily drink a classic Negroni, but I find them sweeter than ideal. Two parts sweet ingredients to only one of spirit is pushing the limit for me, even with the bitter aspects to balance the sweetness. I prefer a less syrupy ratio, and have even gone so far as try other acidifiers, such as lime, citric acid, and Lactart. But certainly the easiest and most authentic way to tame sugarzilla is the perfect variant: split the sweet vermouth fraction into equal parts sweet and dry.

Normally I would have selected Punt e Mes as my preferred sweet vermouth. Some would classify this bitter oddity as a hybrid amaro / sweet vermouth, but I close my mind and try not to think about it. The stuff is just wonderful, so, yup, it’s just sweet vermouth. Alas, I was nearly out (oh dear). I opened a fresh bottle of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, which I enjoy on its own merits. And a newish bottle of Dolin Dry served for the dry vermouth. I am also rather partial to Boissiere.

So my prototype recipe was:

2/3 oz Gin, Beefeater
2/3 oz Campari-like amaro
1/3 oz Sweet vermouth, Cocchi
1/3 oz Dry vermouth, Dolin

To minimize differences in dilution and stirring, I built each in a frozen glass with a huge very frozen ice cube, stirring each in several iterations.

I enlisted the help of my expert bitter snob (and spouse) and we started sampling.

Campari. The original, familiar. Bright citrus flavors. Instantly recognizable as Campari. As wonderful as you would expect it to be.

Luxardo Bitter. Quite similar to Campari really. Essentially the same (artificial) color. It has a floral aspect and is just enough different that I just don’t quite like it as well. In my area it is about 25-30% less expensive, but I would still pay the extra $8-$10 for Campari, even though I go through an astonishing amount of the stuff. Still, a worthy substitute.


1ozSweet vermouth
1dsPeychaud's Bitters (or Angostura or orange)
1wdgOrange (squeezed)
1wdgOrange (as garnish)
Stir and strain, or build. Squeeze one wedge and garnish with the other

Gran Classico. Interesting and quite different. Deeply floral with a spicy flavor. If you like Creme de Violette and Orange Flower Water, this might appeal to you. The golden color is natural and lovely. I enjoyed the variation, but mostly for the variety itself.

Cynar. The Gin-Cin-Cyn is essentially the same drink, and I certainly enjoy it. However in back-to-back sipping, it was thinner and less interesting than the original Negroni, which surprised me. Cynar (with a squeeze of lemon) is my go-to “I want something a little more” aperitif. I think it just couldn’t quite stand up to the other bold ingredients the way that Campari can.

So there you have it. All Negroni variations are good. But I like the original [P]erfect Negroni best. So far.

Dan Chadwick, Chief Swizzlestick



AmyJ's picture

Although Campari totally makes a Negroni, there's a lot of talk here about vermouth- so I am wondering: has anyone tried Vya vermouths? They are out of California and the extra dry and sweet are both amazing (and way cheaper than Antica). Didn't see them in the Listing here, so thought I'd recommend them!

I hear great things and have

bevx's picture

I hear great things and have wanted to try Vya for ages, but I'm always worried a full-size bottle would go south before I could use it all. I've seen half-bottles while visiting California, but not here in Texas... I should probably just take the plunge, though.

I'd recommend it. It is nice

AmyJ's picture

I'd recommend it. It is nice enough to have straight, and I'm not a vermouth fan.

Messing around with the Negroni

I've kept the Campari but scratched the gin, which I don't really love. Try it with a reposado tequila. Awesome. And it doesn't get much better than a Boulevardier, which is a bourbon Negroni. I have been playing with the old "Desert Island Disks" thing that Tower Records used to do: if you were stuck on a desert island forever, which ten record albums would you take. I have tried to figure out which ten cocktails I'd make if I could only make ten. I think the Negroni might have to be on the list, in spite of the gin.

I love a good Negroni. Heck,

bevx's picture

I love a good Negroni. Heck, I love a "bad" Negroni (i.e. cheap gin and/or old vermouth). Regardless, I am a 1:1:1 purist. When the vermouth is suspect (local dives, airports, hotels, etc.), I tend to order them on them on the rocks. The extra dilution helps tame the (possibly) funky vermouth. In fact, the Negroni is my "vermouth tester" drink at bars I'm new to. In my mind, if the vermouth isn't too skunky for a Negroni, it'll definitely be safe for a Manhattan... My absolute favorite Negroni, however, is made with Beefeater 24 for the gin, M&R for the vermouth, and a grapefruit twist.

If it doesn't have Campari,

If it doesn't have Campari, it's not a Negroni! As with you, I have enjoyed playing around with other amari, but I always come back to the original.

There's also the Contessa (use Aperol instead of Campari). If you already find a Negroni too sweet this is certainly not the variant for you, but it is tasty and a good "Negroni with training wheels" for introducing people to the world of amari.


DrunkLab's picture


I think you might prefer a Berlioni to a Gin-Cin-Cyn: 1.5 Tanqueray / .75 Cynar / .25 Noilly Prat Dry / orange twist.

I love this drink

bza's picture

One of my favorite aperitifs, and a great PDT book discovery.

Good idea. For reference,

Dan's picture

Good idea. For reference, that's 1/2 oz of dry vermouth:


1 12ozGin, Tanqueray
12ozDry vermouth, Noilly Prat
1twstOrange peel (as garnish)
Stir, strain, chilled rocks glass w/ one large cube, garnish