Mastering The Negroni
Bitter, sweet and potent, the Negroni is an acquired taste. Judging by the drink’s skyrocketing popularity, a lot more people are acquiring it. It’s a simple enough recipe to remember: equal parts gin, Campari and sweet red vermouth, stirred with ice, strained over ice and garnished with an orange twist. But to mix a perfect Negroni, one that’s ice cold, perfectly balanced and silky smooth, requires the right tools, the right booze and a bit of skill. Here’s how.
When it’s Negroni time, leave the top-shelf gin in the liquor cabinet. The Gilbert Gottfried-like screech of Campari drowns out the subtler qualities of premium spirits. Go with a classic London dry gin such as Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater. I prefer the latter: its sharp citrus flavours can handle the aggressive bitterness of Mr. Gottfried.
Sweet, complex and as bitter as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Campari is an Italian liqueur infused with herbs and fruits made according to Gaspare Campari’s recipe from 1860. In Canada, Campari is 26 percent alcohol, and its colour is essential to a Negroni’s neon red hue that flashes, “Drink me!” Some people prefer the similar, yet lighter Aperol — it’s only 11 percent alcohol — but those people would not be drinking a Negroni.
Vermouth is a fortified wine that’s been flavoured with an array of botanicals including roots, barks, flowers, herbs and spices. It can be sipped on its own as an aperitif, but it’s more often than not used as a modifier in a huge range of cocktails.
A Negroni calls for sweet red vermouth. Fratelli Branca Carpano Antica Formula is the Dom Pérignon of said vermouth. And while Antica makes a magnificent Manhattan, its root beer-esque richness throws the balance off in a Negroni. I prefer the more affordable Martini Rosso; its slight vegetal character really ties the drink together.
A Negroni is a stirred drink. Stirring, rather than shaking, preserves clarity, and yields a cocktail silkier than a Hermès scarf. While you can do it in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, it’s worth investing in a handsome mixing glass if you make a lot of Negronis. A long bar spoon comes in handy though you could MacGyver it with the handle of a large metal spoon. (Avoid wood, as you don’t want your drink to taste like last week’s curry.) Gently stirring the drink over ice chills the liquid while diluting the alcohol to a more palatable level. It takes around 30 to 45 seconds, but taste it to be sure.
It may seem pretentious to insist on a single two-square-inch ice cube to chill your Negroni, but this is a master class, not nursery school. You want a perfect Negroni? Buy an extra-large ice cube tray. The bigger block keeps the drink cold with minimal dilution.
Fort the garnish, remove a 3/4″ by 2″ strip of orange zest with a Y-peeler, being careful to minimize the bitter, white pith. Squeeze it over the drink to release the oils then drop it in. Finally, it’s Negroni time.
If you want to explore variations on the Negroni — they are seemingly endless — I direct you to The Straight Up, Nick Caruana’s excellent blog that focuses on classic cocktails.
1 oz. Beefeater London dry gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Martini Rosso sweet vermouth
1 large ice cube
1 orange twist
Step 1: Chill a double rocks or old-fashioned glass.
Step 2: Pour gin, Campari and vermouth into a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Add enough ice to come above the liquid. Stir until the mixing glass or shaker feels ice cold, 30 to 45 seconds.
Step 3: Place large cube in chilled glass. Strain drink into glass. Pinch orange twist to release oils and drop in glass.
1-2. Eric Vellend