It’s not a secret that most of us like a good ol’ Negroni; the recipe is easy to remember, the ingredients aren’t obscure, you can easily batch it, it always looks stunning, never feels out of place (not in time, nor in place)…
But when made with ‘equal parts of a random Gin, Sweet Vermouth and Campari‘, the Negroni often lacks character, balance, body… misses the finesse that makes it stand out as the beauty it potentially CAN be.
In this blogpost I’ll be sharing some tweaks, tips and tricks you can easily apply to your Negroni, taking it to the next level for yourself and your friends.
1. THE EASY BASICS
Before we really start playing with the recipe, let’s start with having a look at what you can easily do to (quite vastly) improve your ‘core version’ of equal parts Gin, Campari and Sweet Vermouth.
- GIN: If your Gin has an ABV of 45% ABV (92 proof) or less, try using at least 40-45ml (1.5oz) vs the 30ml (1oz) of Campari and Sweet Vermouth. Kicking this up will slightly alter the perception .
Secondly: use a (London Dry) Gin where the Juniper is prominently present, preferably supported by citrus tones. There are plenty of options, so I’m not going to go brand specific.
- CAMPARI: While there are many Red Aperitivi (and depending on your choice of Gin, others may be a better fit), I’m sure 90% of you will be using Campari. So, I’d suggest keeping this element unchanged, that way you’ll have a stronghold while experimenting.
- VERMOUTH: There is a huge variety in Sweet Vermouths; in terms of sweetness, bitterness, wine base, botanical build… Yet, Sweet Vermouth lends itself easily to be blended with other Sweet Vermouths to create some kind of ‘the-result-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts’-blend (compared to f.e. blending different Gins, which is a lot more difficult). Perfect if you’ve got 2-3 bottles of Vermouth open!
2. SWAP THAT GIN
The easiest tweak you can make to a Negroni is ditching the Gin and utilizing another spirit. Now, before y’all go pitchfork and torches on me, I do agree that you can’t ‘just switch out a core ingredient’ and still expect it to be the same drink. Case in point: A Margarita and Sidecar may be as closely tied together as can be, effectively they’re worlds apart on multiple levels.
The thing is though: Sbagliatos, Boulevardiers, Kingston Negronis, Old Pals, there are plenty of Negroni variations already in existence where Gin ain’t playing along. And whatever your personal preferences, there’ll always be a combo perceived undeniably delicious by your palate!
What about using a Grape Spirit like Cognac, Pisco or Brandy De Jerez to strengthen the role of the Vermouth? Maybe go bold with Peated Whiskies, Smoky Mezcals or High Ester Rums to kick against the bitterness in a completely different way. You could also play it a bit more safely by using a ‘botanical spirit’ like Nc’Nean, Vulson or Lindores Abbey; closer to Gin, yet still distinctly different.
Note: Any spirit you’ll end up working with will impact the relationship between the bold, bitter and sweet of the Negroni, so take your time to find the sweet spot in balancing the elements.
3. INFUSE THAT BITTER
Whether you’re using Campari or any other brand of Red Aperitivo, there’s so much to do with it. Where Gin might often be a bit fickle and Vermouth often not strong enough, I find the Bitter the most exciting ingredient in the Negroni to ‘alter/adjust’ by means of infusion.
Toasted Coconut Flakes, Pineapple or Citrus Peels. Cacao Nibs, Coffee, Tea or Strawberries. Chili peppers, Raisins, Rosemary or a homemade spice mix, the only limit here is your imagination.
Note: Depending on your chosen ingredient, you’ll obviously have to adjust length of infusion. A good rule of thumb would be to start with 12 hours, followed by tasting every 6-12h until happy.
4. SPLIT THAT WINE
Alright, we’ve got another element to play with! Now, what Sweet Vermouth does perfectly in a Negroni is being the connector between the Bitter and your Spirit, hence I’m not as eager to omit it as I was with the Gin. Now, if not omitting, what about splitting it with other fortified/aromatized wine?
Depending on your base spirit’s aromatic traits, there will always be a wine that compliments your spirit of choice! From Sherry wines to Madeira. Pineau des Charentes to Port Wines. From Muscat to Sauternes, even Eiswein…, maybe you have a bottle of Lillet, Dubonnet, Byrrh or another local Aperitif around?!
Note: Start with a 50/50 split of 15ml (0.5oz) each and take it from there.
5. FOUR IS A CHARM
Three-ingredient cocktails are great, especially if you have limited access to bottles. Nothing more frustrating than being unable to recreate recipes because you’re always missing a single element. But that doesn’t mean there’s no glory to be found in adding a fourth ingredient to your Negronis, often depending on the time, place and setting of where and when the Negroni will be served!
If you want to add a layer of complexity, how about splitting the Campari with an (other) Amaro like Cynar, Braulio or Zucca. Or you could use slightly less Vermouth and/or Campari to add a splash of Liqueur (Coffee, Chili and Herbal liqueurs blend in beautifully, but several fruit liqueurs do amazing as well). Like it bold? What about finishing things off with a barspoon of something highly Aromatic, maybe even several dashes of bitters!
Note: Liqueurs and Bitters can both have a large impact on the sweetness of the final result. Be aware of this and taste before, during and after stirring, adjust balance accordingly, one thing worse than a lackluster Negroni is an unbalanced one.
Oh, and one last tip! If you went too bitter in your build, adding a tiny pinch of salt (or a drop of salt solution) to your cocktail may be exactly what you needed.
Happy mixing and no matter how close you stay to the original recipe or how far you stray from it, I hope this rundown helps you turning any boring Negroni into the potentially wonderful drink it can (and should) be.
That’s it folks!