The Negroni is a classic Italian cocktail made with gin, sweet vermouth, and the bitter liqueur Campari. Although it’s a simple, three ingredient cocktail, it’s actually a pretty easy drink to mess up.
The first Negroni I ever had was in a somewhat dive-y bar in NYC, very late at night. Although I enjoyed bittersweet flavors, I had never tasted Campari before and I didn’t realize just how potent (bitter and boozy) the Negroni was going to be.
The first (and worst) Negroni I ever had
The Negroni I received that evening was extremely strong and not very well balanced, probably due to the fact that the bartender just splashed a few ingredients into a glass of ice and handed it over. Honestly, I’m not sure that he even measured them.
Needless to say, I thought the Negroni was the worst cocktail on the planet – some kind of sick joke that bars put on menus in order to have a good laugh at the poor fool who ordered one.
Fast forward several years and I tried the Negroni again, this time in the comfort of my own home. I had been interested in classic cocktails for quite a while at this point and I’d finally gotten over the trauma of that first Negroni. I was ready to give it another chance.
Giving the Negroni a second chance
I measured equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth into my mixing glass, filled the glass about 3/4 with ice, then stirred until the glass was frosted over.
Next, I strained the liquid into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice, peeled a thick swath of orange peel, and expressed the oils over the drink.
And it was…GOOD! Really good! This homemade Negroni tasted nothing like the boozy cough syrup I’d been served years earlier, and I started to realize that there’s a bit of finesse required to making a good Negroni (and any stirred drink, really).
There’s a fine line between a great and a not-so-great Negroni. So let’s dive into what to do, and also what not to do!
Want to know more about the Negroni and its history? Read more over at Vinepair.
Use quality gin and vermouth
Campari is Campari, and while there are other red bitters on the market these days, start with the classic. Next up is gin. Choose a quality gin with a traditional flavor profile. I enjoy Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Plymouth, or Junipero.
For the most flavorful Negroni, try Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth. Other great options are Dolin, Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi, and Cinzano. One of my favorites for a Negroni or an Americano is Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino.
Once you’ve assembled your ingredients, be sure to measure them accurately. Learn more about measuring and the tools for the job in my Essential Tools for the Home Bartender.
Start with equal parts
It’s ok to prefer a slightly different ratio than the classic – but start with equal parts and you can always adjust it later. The standard recipe is:
- 1 oz London dry gin
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
Some folks prefer a heavier pour of gin (1 1/2 oz), or scale back the vermouth and Campari to 3/4 ounce. Remember that the Negroni is a heavy-hitting, spirit-forward drink, so no matter the recipe you follow, it’s going to be a boozy sip.
Stir with plenty of ice, then serve over fresh ice
Thinking back, I realized that the bartender who served me my first Negroni didn’t stir the drink and then serve it over fresh ice. The ingredients were poured straight from the bottle into my glass, and as a result, when I took my first sip, it wasn’t even that cold. Warm Campari, yum.
The reason we stir and then strain over fresh ice is to ensure proper chill and dilution. Shaken cocktails need those things too, but it’s especially important to add enough dilution to a cocktail that’s made of all boozy components.
Add an ounce of each ingredient to your mixing glass, then fill the glass with plenty of ice (about 3/4 of the way). Stir until everything is thoroughly chilled, about 30 rotations. It takes longer to properly stir a drink than you might initially think. Take your time and it will be worth it.
Now prepare your serving glass with plenty of fresh ice (or one large cube) and strain the cocktail over the ice.
Express an orange peel
Another element missing from my first Negroni was the garnish. It’s ok to discard the peel afterward, but make sure that you express the oils over the surface of the cocktail and run the peel along the lip of the glass.
While some cocktail garnishes are just for looks (like a pineapple leaf), citrus peels and their oils add a burst of fresh citrus aromas that dramatically affect the flavor of the finished drink. Don’t skip it!
A Negroni without orange oils can taste too strong and/or too bitter. The orange oil softens any harsh notes from the gin and brings out the sweet citrus notes in Campari.
Learn more about how these garnishes work and how to make them in my Guide to Citrus Peel Garnishes.
Bonus: choose the right glass and chill it in advance
While not critical to your Negroni, you can really make it perfect by choosing a nice heavy rocks glass and chilling the glass in the freezer ahead of time.
A thick, heavy-bottomed glass will be a bit more insulated than a glass with thin walls. This will prevent the warmth of your hand from speeding up the ice melt, which will affect the temperature and dilution of the drink.
The colder the glass, the longer your drink will stay cold. It can also help to slow down additional ice melt that will eventually water your drink down. This is also why many home bartenders choose to serve their Negronis over one large ice cube or sphere. Larger ice is slower-melting ice.
Lastly, experiment with different glass sizes. When I serve Negronis over large ice, I like to use double old fashioned glasses so there’s plenty of room above the liquid in my glass to capture all of those great aromas.
This Negroni Glass from Viski is another great option for serving Negronis and other stirred cocktails.
What’s your perfect Negroni? Share your favorite ingredients and specs on Instagram and be sure to tag me @moodymixologist!
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How to Make the Perfect Negroni
- 1 oz London dry gin
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
- orange peel For garnish
- Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and fill the glass 3/4 with ice.
- Stir with a long-handled bar spoon until thoroughly chilled, about 30 rotations.
- Strain the liquid into a rocks glass filled with ice (or one large cube).
- Remove a strip of peel from an orange and express the oils over the surface of the drink.
- Garnish the drink with the peel, or discard it.