The Negroni had a big moment this spring when actor Stanley Tucci posted a video of himself making one while quarantining at home in New York City. The blowback was immediate for his unforgivable crime of shaking the drink instead of stirring it. Bartenders and cocktail wonks immediately took to Twitter to condemn this serious mixology faux pas, even while many more found his drink-mixing demeanor more than a little bit charming. For the record, yes, technically this cocktail should not be shaken, but the reaction was a little ridiculous.
While this might have been the first time some people had even heard of the Negroni, the drink has been popular for many years. Cocktail historian and writer David Wondrich believes it’s particularly popular today because it “pushes a lot of modern buttons.” First of all, it’s a bitter drink that uses assertively flavored ingredients (Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin), which he says are in vogue. “It's not particularly high ABV, which makes it accessible, although it's got plenty of flavor and doesn't taste weak,” he said. “You can make it up (popular with some), or on the rocks, or rock—trendy... And, of course, it's easy to make.”
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According to Daniel Warrilow, Italian portfolio ambassador for Campari America, the Negroni’s origins date back to 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni dropped by the Caffè Casoni in Via de’ Tornabuoni in Florence for a cool drink. “Inspired by a recent trip to London where he became exposed to its prevailing gin scene, the Count requested his Americano cocktail (Campari, sweet vermouth, soda water) with gin rather than the usual soda water,” he said. “The bartender, Fosco Scarselli, added a twist of orange rather than the Americano’s typical lemon peel.” After that, people began to belly up to the bar and ask for an Americano ‘The Negroni’ way, cementing its status as an iconic cocktail. Wondrich has written extensively about the origins of the drink, and provides the caveat that while this is the accepted story behind the drink, factual documentation is lacking. According to Wondrich, it’s not until 1947 that the Negroni recipe actually turns up in a cocktail book, and from there the rest is tipsy history.
The bitter element of a Negroni can be a challenge for some drinkers, but Warrilow says that practice makes perfect. “Some say you need to try Campari three times before you acquire a taste for it,” he said. “If a sweeter taste profile is desired, there are many ways to cut through the bitterness with supplemental ingredients.” One way to do this is by adding citrus to the drink, which he says will complement the trademark sweetness and floral notes, while masking some of the bitter flavors.
Linden Pride, co-owner of New York City’s Dante, knows a thing or two about the Negroni. The bar, voted World’s Best Bar in 2019, features at least nine variations of the drink on its extensive and eclectic menu. For Pride, the drink’s inherent simplicity makes it nearly impossible to screw up. “The bitter component of the cocktail is usually what pulls you in—especially as this is a taste profile that is generally learnt, over time, as our pallet matures,” he said. “I’ve always felt that the true wonder of the Negroni is that sense of discovery you embark upon once you start to un-peel the layers.” He says that swapping out the gin for mezcal, bourbon, or other styles of gin, using dry vermouth instead of sweet, or even using other types of Italian bitters are ways of building upon the classic recipe. “The complexity and variations on the drink are seemingly endless.”
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Now that you know the ingredients and flavor profile, and understand a little bit about the history of the drink, why not try making one for yourself at home? Also, consider making a batch of Negronis which you can keep in the freezer like Warrilow does for quick and easy access. “That way it’s always cold and all I have to do is pour it into a glass with ice and add an orange twist,” he said. Here are two foolproof recipes to channel your inner Tucci from Linden and Warrilow.
Negroni ‘On Tap’ (Created by Dante, NYC)
1 oz Bombay Sapphire
¾ oz Campari
¾ oz Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
Stir and strain ingredients on one large ice cube in rocks glass. Garnish with orange twist and plastic stirrer.
Negroni (Daniel Warrilow)
1 part Campari
1 part 1757 Vermouth di Torino Rosso
1 part Bulldog Gin
Build ingredients over ice in a rocks glass. Stir for 15 seconds with a bar spoon. Garnish with an orange peel or slice.