I can’t remember the first time I tasted a negroni, but it was probably a boozy after work session in the 80’s. The Negroni is well known as the bartender’s favourite tipple. Although I was working in a pub in Clerkenwell, it was run and owned by Lesley Lewis of the French House and my fellow bartenders were mostly the bright stars of Soho’s cocktail and restaurant scene. They would be key in leading me into a new world of boozy and culinary concoctions that would of otherwise probably of passed me by. One of the things I do remember was that a Negroni made Campari palatable.
I learnt how to love Campari, my mum has always drunk Campari and Soda. I was never keen, but in a Negroni or an Americano, I found the bitterness married perfectly with the sweetness of the vermouth adding body and richness.This was all over 30 years ago and today I just can’t imagine life without my bitter friend.
However, the moment it dawned on me that the Negroni could be so much more than a classic London Dry Gin with Martini Rosso and Campari was much later.
Early in 2012 I’d stumbled across a gin called Sparrow, later to become Little Bird and the team behind the gin opened the cutest little bar in Maltby street market. They had a cherry Negroni on the menu, it was equal parts Little Bird Gin, Vermouth and Aperol with a dash of Fee Brothers cherry bitters. It was blooming delicious and I immediately added it to our menu at The Oliver Conquest along with Sipsmith, Martini Rosso and Campari, and a Sacred Negroni using Sacred classic gin, Spiced English Vermouth & Rosehip cup.
I suppose this sowed the seed that would eventually lead to our first mix and match Negroni menu at the OC and the realisation that the combinations were endless.
While we all have hugely different tastes and my favourite might not be yours, here I have put together a little guide to help you all find your ideal Negroni.
Ingredients aside, get the serve right:
Equal parts and dilution are key. You can build your Negroni over ice within the glass you are going to drink it from, enjoying it as it slowly dilutes and changes complexity as you sip. You want the dilution to be slow so big chunky ice is best.
Alternatively, you can stir your Negroni in a mixing glass filled with ice, before straining into a chilled Nik & Nora or small tasting glass. On the rocks or served ‘up’ as it’s sometimes known each have their merits, but whichever you choose the key to remember here is to think about dilution.
Bitterness is key to the negroni and traditionally comes from the use of Campari. If you are new to Campari or not keen on the bitterness, then drink a little Campari neat over ice or with soda then progress to taking a bigger mouthful and let it coat every part of your mouth before you swallow it, in order to get your palate used the bitter orange nature of the Aperitif. This should also help you to taste beyond the bitter to its sweet core.
There are so many great vermouths to choose from. I would start with a classic Italian vermouth such as Cocchi di Torino or Antica Formula, but not to worry if all you have is a bottle of Martini Rosso - as long as it lives in the fridge
(preferably vacuum pumped) for no longer than a month.
After opening any vermouth, it starts to oxidise (just like a bottle of wine, although slower) and the longer you leave it, the more it will start to lose its character. For this reason I prefer to choose a good quality versatile vermouth that I also enjoy drinking neat over ice or can use in other cocktails. Cocchi, Belsazar and Regal Rogue and Sacred are all excellent brands for this.
Choose a gin you really enjoy, for an equal parts negroni maybe start with the most classic juniper forward gin in your collection. The most wonderful thing about a negroni is that the classic combination of gin, vermouth and bitters is a perfect match, you may prefer some combinations better than others but it’s pretty hard to find one that is so awful you wouldn’t drink it.
Part of the reason that negroni works so well is that all three elements share a botanical backbone and that juniper loves playing off lots of different botanicals, it finds ways to lead you through each.
Here are some specific Negroni combinations to help get you started:
I find it easiest to start with the gin and picking the other two parts accordingly. Think about the botanicals you love the most in the gin, then use these to guide you when choosing your vermouth and bitters.
For example, I’m a sucker for anything with cardamom so if a gin has spice, I want the Negroni to be aromatic overall and if a gin is citrusy, I want my Negroni to reflect that bright freshness.
Classic Juniper forward gins will work with most vermouths. My recommendation for a simple Negroni would be Beefeater with Cocchi Di Torino and Campari. If you want to dial it up, go with Sipsmith VJOP, Belsazar Red and Campari for a really deep rich bold Negroni.
My ultimate classically styled, turbo-charged Negroni is Tarquin’s Seadog with Antica Formula and Campari.
Spiced Gins scream for a big vermouth. Try the likes of Belsazar Red, Antica Formula, Regal Rogue Bold Red or Cocchi Americano Rosa to pair with a Spiced gin.
Citrussy Gins come in many forms with so many to choose from. Lemon and lime forward gins are lovely and fresh in a White Negroni with Cocchi Americano and Suze.
I’m a big fan of an orange forward gin. They tend to go really well with most vermouths but a trio that shine particularly brightly are Tanqueray Flor De Sevilla with Cocchi Di Torino and Campari. You can even add a few drops of chocolate bitters for a winter treat…
Gins with a big grapefruit note are fantastic with more herbaceous and spiced vermouths as the citrus' zesty nature has the ability to cut through them.
A favourite of mine is Rock Rose Pink Grapefruit Old Tom with Byrrh or Punt e Mes, as the sweetness from the gin tames the bitter bite in the vermouth whilst working in perfect harmony with its herbaceous notes.
Coastal gins (that have a savoury almost saline feel about them) are great with drier, white vermouths such as Dolin Dry or Regal Rogue Daring Dry. I love the Hidden Curiosities Aranami Gin with Belsazar White Vermouth and Suze.
If you take a moment to rim the glass with grapefruit and sea salt before you sip, you’ll be rewarded by being transported to a tropical island skipping in the waves tasting the sea on your lips.
With their lighter nature, Florals gins are an ideal match for Rosé vermouths. I recommend pairing them with Cocchi Americano Rosa or Regal Rogue Wild Rosé as both add a delicious fruity-ness, especially to rose, violet and lavender forward gins.
If you want a sweeter style Negroni, Nordes Gin with Belsazar Red and Sacred’s Rosehip Cup is a dream combination. This Negroni bursts with layers of flavour that are aromatic, herbaceous and floral all at once - a spectacular profile where the gin’s complexity really shines.
The possibilities are endless and a love affair with the Negroni is an infinite journey of discovery. Just keep experimenting!