Make Mine a Negroni

A classic cocktail with decades of history and consumption

One night a couple of years ago, a few friends and I were seated along the bar in a West Village restaurant drinking Negronis. Another friend arrived late, saw what we (mostly female) were all imbibing and exclaimed, “You people drink like old men!”

Old men? Come on. With its easy symmetry of sweetness, dryness, and bitterness, there’s a reason why this cocktail has endured through the decades. Enjoyed by women and men alike, pal.
A Negroni is comprised of three simple ingredients: gin, Campari Italian bitters, and sweet vermouth. Campari, a secret blend of herbs and spices in a bright red liqueur, was first introduced to Milan in the late 1860s by Gaspare Campari. Soon after, the popular drink then known as "Milano-Torino" — Campari, sweet vermouth from Turin, and soda — was born. It later became known as the "Americano" because of its popularity with Prohibition-era Americans flocking to Europe to drink legally. In around 1920, Count Camillo Negroni went into his Florence local, Caffé Casoni, and asked for his Americano with gin instead of soda to make it more boozy. Orange was added as the garnish to distinguish it from the other, less strong drink.

The Negroni grew many devotees in the decades since. Apparently, Orson Welles remarked in 1947 that it strikes the perfect balance because the bitters counteract the gin in the liver. Pop cultural references are everywhere from Tennessee Williams to the Sopranos to celebrity chef tomes.

These days, it’s a popular drink from high end cocktail bars to casual, old-school dining establishments. It’s also a considerate thing to order when a busy bar is in the weeds, since it’s so simple to prepare. Everyone wins!

Negronis are great to riff on. The bitters and vermouth duo works well with other base spirits in place of gin, such as vodka, blanco tequila, rum, bourbon, or even a sparkling wine. The vermouth can be replaced with other sweet or aromatic ingredients such as Amaro or PX Sherry. Even the orange bitters element can be adjusted. Mix and match to find your favorites!

Please be aware, this all-booze concoction packs quite the wallop. More than two will take you from Sophia to Snooki in no time.

Click here for the basic Negroni recipe, followed by variations. Salute!

— Amanda Schuster,