9 Tips for Making the Perfect Negroni, According to a Master Bartender
For starters? Don’t rub the orange peel on the rim.
I can remember my first Negroni clearly—February 2018, gleaming on the bar in front of me at Morrissey’s Lounge in the Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga Springs. I’d been listening to my coworkers evangelize about this drink for months, watching them order it over and over again at company events and happy hours. The dark, amber-orange cocktail always made me curious, but I’d inevitably resort to a gin and tonic at the last moment—or whatever the cocktail special of the night was. (Spritzes. It was always spritzes.) However, as the weeks went on, I gave in and decided I owed it to myself to at least try it—after all, I loved the orange flavor in Aperol Spritzes, so why not Negronis?
With the first cool sip, I knew I’d found my new apéritif. It was bitter, but also sweet, with strong herb undertones and orange laced within. The finish was smoothing and refreshing; the large ice cube keeping everything perfectly chilled. I finished it quickly, immediately understanding why people couldn’t get enough—granted, I wasn’t prepared for how strong it was. (There’s no mixer, just gin, Campari, and sweet red vermouth.) But as a now-seasoned Negroni drinker, I’ve come to appreciate savoring it over time, the Italian way. It's become my own regular order whenever I'm at a cocktail bar, but I've had yet to summon the courage to make it at home—until now.
Next week (June 24 to 30) is Negroni Week, an annual event where bars around the world serve the cocktails and donate a portion of the proceeds to a charity of their choice. This year’s Negroni Week is extra special, as the cocktail turns 100, believed to have been invented in Florence in 1919 when Count Negroni ordered an Americano (Campari, vermouth, soda water) with gin instead of soda water. So when I heard that Campari would be hosting a Negroni master class to celebrate, I eagerly signed up. Led by Stacey Swenson, a master bartender from New York's Dante—once named the "Best American Restaurant Bar"—we worked our way through the Negroni’s history, first making an Americano, followed by a classic Negroni, and finally, a Negroni Sbagliato (more on that in a minute). Along the way, I picked up some key tips for executing the cocktail at home, and walked away a far more confident bartender. Here’s what Swenson taught us:
Remember the formula
The basic makeup of a Negroni is one part gin, one part Campari, and one part sweet vermouth—we used one ounce of each to mix ours, plus ice and an orange peel.
Pick a bold gin
Campari has a strong taste, so you’ll need a bold gin to compete with it. Swenson likes to use a London dry-style.
Get good quality vermouth, and treat it properly
Swenson reminded us during the class that vermouth is wine, and wine has a shelf life—so make sure you refrigerate it. Sweet vermouth will keep in the fridge for three months, she says, as it’s fortified. Campari, on the other hand, has no shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about it.
You might want to dilute the Negroni first
Depending on your ice situation, you might want to create your Negroni in a mixer glass first, and then strain it into your glass to dilute it a bit. If you’re using small ice that melts faster, it’s not necessary.
Speaking of ice...
Swenson recommends using one big ice cube (the cool square or spherical ones you’ll often see at cocktail bars) or three to four draft-sized ice cubes, the kind you’d normally find in freezers. Whichever ice you use, make sure it’s not dripping wet.
Use the orange peel for added flavor…
After your Negroni is ready to go, grab an orange peel for garnish. First, you’ll want to “express” (aka twist) the peel over the glass, to release oils into the drink. Then, place it in the Negroni standing up so that the outer side, or orange side, of the peel is facing you. This will create the most aromatic drinking experience.
But don’t rub it on the glass
While you might be tempted to swipe the peel around the rim too for added flavor, Swenson advises against it. The residue will cause a slight numbing effect when you sip, which alters your drinking experience.
Feel free to spin it
There are plenty of different Negroni iterations out there—an Americano uses club soda instead of gin, while a Sbagliato ("mistake," in Italian) swaps in Prosecco. Swenson says you can play around with rye, bourbon, mezcal, rum, and other spirits to create your own Negroni riff. Just remember the drink’s three components: bitter, sweet, and strong. (For what it’s worth, Negroni Sbagliatos are her favorite.)
Remember: they’re hard to mess up
The Negroni Sbagliato was created by mistake, after all—since the drink is made with equal parts, don’t stress too much while you’re making it.