Any fan of a perfectly bitter cocktail probably has a certain fondness for a Negroni. Reigning supreme as the most searched-for cocktail in the Italian aperitivo canon, the distinctly crimson drink is frequently associated with elegance and sophisticated drinking — it is most commonly credited to Count Camillo Luigi Manfredo Maria Negroni, an Italian nobleman, after all.
Aperitivi, whose name is derived from the Latin for “to open up,” are beverages served to stimulate your appetite before a meal, so naturally, the Italian aperitivo hour is all about late-afternoon unwinding and pre-dinner socializing. While many classic aperitivo cocktails are lower-ABV (think the Milano-Torino, a MARTINI & ROSSIⓇ French Spritz or a MARTINI & ROSSI Americano), the Negroni holds its spot as a favorite aperitivo cocktail (and even has a club-kid history) due to its balance of bold flavors and a low-fuss preparation.
There are countless Negroni variations — the East India Negroni, Sour Cherry Negroni and Alpine Negroni, to name just a few — but the classic is the first to master. While the recipe is, hopefully, simple enough to not intimidate any new bartender or at-home mixologist, there are subtle steps that can be taken to ensure near-perfection.
First, know what you need. “A Negroni is made with gin, sweet vermouth and a red bitter [MARTINI & ROSSI Riserva Speciale Bitter Liqueur, for example],” says Jim Meehan, beverage director of a modern restaurant known for its cocktails in Portland, Oregon. “There are many brands of each that can be used to make a Negroni, but the type of spirit may not be substituted for another ingredient and still be served as the Negroni.”
Next, know who you’re serving. “Perfection is in the eye of the beholder,” Meehan says. “I always ask the guest if they’d like straight-up or on the rocks and whether they’d like equal parts or more gin.” When it comes to his own Negroni, Meehan prefers more gin, stirred (with a single 1-inch ice cube), served over a big (typically a 2-inch) ice cube, and with an orange twist garnish. “Some drinks don’t require a show and this is one of them,” he says.
If you are someone who enjoys adding your own flair to things, there are many different ways to hack your Negroni without straying too far from the original. Linden Pride, the principal at a New York City bar famous for its Negronis, says the perfect Negroni is “the one that is in your hand at any given moment.” Behind his bar, 14 Negroni variations are served, all playing on different types of bitters, amari and vermouths. Similar to Meehan’s preferred mixing method, the signature Negroni at Pride’s bar is a drier, more gin-forward version of the classic. Playing around with the proportions of the drink allows you to tweak notes and flavors to the preferences of the person who will be drinking it.
Once the Negroni is mixed (“stirred or thrown; it should never be shaken,” Meehan says), it’s time to pour over ice. Kay Plunkett-Hogge, author of Aperitivo: Drinks and Snacks for the Dolce Vita, suggests pouring the stirred drink over a large ice cube. While it’s easy to think that the large cube is a choice based merely on aesthetics, in fact it is tied to the dilution of the spirits. Both Meehan and Pride agree. “Serving it over a big cube means the primary dilution will occur in the mixing glass (or shaker) rather than in the glass it’s being served in, as the big cube melts slowly,” Meehan says. Proper dilution of the drink allows for the Negroni’s full flavor profile to be expressed.
Once the drink is poured (traditionally into a chilled Old-Fashioned glass), the final step is the garnish. The classic serving method calls for an orange twist, but the way it’s added to the glass has flexibility. A fan of a smokier flavor, Plunkett-Hogge prefers to flame the orange twist (adding an orange peel or orange bitters helps to enhance and complement the herbal bitterness of the liqueurs) over the glass, squeezing the oils from the peel through to intensify the flavors. Meehan, on the other hand, prefers to stick with a simple approach: “Stir it mindfully, stain it carefully, twist the orange peel over the surface, and hand it over graciously.”
The next time you find yourself behind the bar at an aperitivo hour or dinner party, keep this expert advice in mind to help you mix, stir and pour a Negroni with confidence and ease.
Whether you’re looking for more ways to spice up your Negroni or simply want to master the classic, MARTINI & ROSSI can give you the recipes, tools and inspiration you need.
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