What started as a cocktail variation once requested by Count Camillo Negroni is now the drink that bears his name, which has endured worldwide since its creation in northern Italy circa 1919. These days, the Negroni is enjoyed before or after dinner, during dinner, or whenever there’s a yearn for its bittersweet blend of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and that distinctly red Italian bitter Campari. With those three core ingredients — plus a hint of flavor from an expressed orange twist — the Negroni is rather botanical, with its parts bringing in notes of juniper berries, red grapes, citrus, cloves, and cinnamon.
But the basic Negroni recipe begs for reinterpretation. So why not try a Negroni with rum, a Negroni with bourbon, or a Negroni with a bit more oomph thanks to the addition of aromatized wine or particular vermouth? Don’t like it too bitter? Try a sweeter, but still botanical-forward, Negroni swizzle. Riffing on the cocktail is certainly not bartender blasphemy. In fact, it makes sense: After all, the Negroni was born out of Count Negroni’s request for a stronger version of the Americano, a popular cocktail of his time, in which his bartender swapped in gin for soda water and added an orange twist. Here, according to a variety of bartenders, nine Negroni variations take that original cocktail a few steps even further.
1. The White Negroni
“Lighter in color and in flavor, this Negroni is made with the more floral and subtler vermouth blanc as opposed to sweet vermouth and the sharp, earthy bitterness of the gentian liqueur, versus the bitter orange of Campari,” says London-based mixologist Wayne Collins. “Barr Hill Gin works incredibly well in this contemporary classic since the botanicals of the raw honey pair so beautifully with the other ingredients.”
- 1½ oz. Barr Hill Gin
- ¾ oz. Vermouth Blanc or Bianco
- ¾ oz. Gentian liqueur
- Lemon twist, for garnish
Stir with the gin, vermouth, and Gentian liqueur with ice, then strain it into rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a lemon twist.
2. Pink Negroni Swizzle
“The word Negroni always makes the guest think that the cocktail will be very bitter but to their surprise this one is bright, juicy, and crisp,” says Jorge Figueroa, bar manager of L.A.’s All Day Baby.
Figueroa’s recipe uses Las Californias Nativo gin, made from ingredients spanning both Californias: the Alta California (the US state) and Baja California in Mexico. “After tasting the Nativo expression I wanted to let the spirit shine so I paired it with a Mexican grapefruit bitter and a Blanc vermouth from the Basque region. All three ingredients complement each other and bring out more of the botanicals of the gin once given a little dilution.”
- 1 oz. Las Californias Nativo
- 1 oz. Tximista Blac Vermouth
- ⅜ oz. Cordoval Dix Liqueur
- Crushed ice
- Grapefruit slice and sage sprig, for garnish
Combine the gin, vermouth, and liqueur in a glass filled halfway with crushed ice. Swizzle, then top with more crushed ice. Garnish with the grapefruit wedge and sage sprig.
3. The Kaizen Negroni
“Our numerous trips throughout Italy solidified our love of the Negroni. It’s such a classic. The look of the Negroni with its bright red hue evokes the Italian flag. Sharp, delicate, sweet, and bitter all at once,” says Aaron Thompson, of Knoxville’s aperitivo bar Brother Wolf. “Our bar team developed a Negroni menu 41 drinks deep, that included a handful of foundational recipes and a catalog of variations focusing on the cocktail’s versatility.” The Kaizen Negroni is a Japanese-influenced riff on the classic.
- 1 oz. iichico Saiten Sochu
- 1 oz. Kagatsura Plum Sake
- ¾ oz. Amaro Sfumato
- 1 amarena cherry, for garnish
Combine the sochu, sake, and amaro in a mixing glass, then add ice and stir. Strain into a chilled coupe glass or over fresh ice in a double rocks glass. Garnish with an Amarena cherry.
4. The Equiano Freehand Rum Negroni
“The Equiano Freehand is similar to a Rum Negroni but instead of having equal parts of spirit, vermouth and Campari, the recipe calls for more rum than the sweet vermouth and bitter component,” says Ian Burrell, co-founder of Equiano Rum. “The chocolate bitters serve to lengthen the taste of award-winning African Caribbean rum. Best served with a twist of orange peel and some dark plain chocolate.”
- 1⅔o z. Equiano Original Rum
- ⅖ oz. Campari
- ⅚ oz. Sweet vermouth
- 3 dashes of chocolate bitters
- Orange slice and chocolate, for garnish
Stir the rum, Campari, vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass with ice until cold. Then serve it in a rocks glass with a large rock of ice, or an ice ball. Garnish with the orange slice and plain chocolate.
5. The 5 Rue Daunou
Named after the street address of Harry’s Bar in Paris, this version of the Negroni from Kentucky-based mixologist Beth Burrows features Rye, red-pepper flake-infused vermouth, and a puff of smoke. “It is one of the creations that I am most proud of,” she declares. It involves a little more than just mixing spirits in a glass with ice, but give it a go and your efforts will be rewarded.
- 2oz. Knob Creek Rye
- ¾oz. Campari
- ¾oz. Red pepper flake-infused Dolin Rouge Vermouth*
- Applewood chips
- Lemon peel, for garnish
Light the applewood chips until they begin to smoke, then capture that smoke in a coupe glass. Meanwhile, combine the rye, Campari, and vermouth in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Then strain the cocktail into the smoked coupe. Garnish with lemon peel.
*For the red pepper flake-infused vermouth
Pour the 750mL bottle of vermouth into a new container with a lid. Cover the top of the liquid with red pepper flakes. Lightly tumble the infusion container for 15 seconds, then let sit for 8 min. Taste—you want it to infuse with flavor and some heat, but not too much. Continue the process until it is infused to your preference—but don’t let it infuse for more than 15 minutes.) Then strain out all the flakes, seal, and refrigerate.
6. End of Politics
“There are few things more gratifying for me than being able to introduce someone to a spirit they didn't know they loved or making them their new favorite drink based on a vague description of what they're looking for,” says Alex Comas of Little Prince in Santa Monica. “When someone says they like drinking Negronis, I always offer this variation which introduces them to two unique California offerings: the St. George Bruto Americano and Angeleno Amaro. Both showcase how beautifully California can create these bitter liqueurs. The bourbon rounds out the palate in this spirit forward cocktail.”
- 2 oz. Old Bardstown Bourbon
- ½ oz. St. George Bruto Americano
- ½ oz. Amaro Angeleno
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 1 tsp. Luxardo syrup (from a jar of Luxardo cherries)
- Orange peel and a Luxardo cherry, for garnish
Stir the bourbon, amaros, bitters, and syrup, and strain over a big cube. Garnish with an expressed orange peel and a Luxardo cherry.
7. The Here’s Johnny Negroni
“This variation of the classic Negroni gets a touch of spooky seasonality with the addition of blood orange,” says Laura Price, bartender at Cutwater Spirits’ Tasting Room & Kitchen. “The cinnamon, clove and bitter orange botanicals in Cutwater's award-winning gin compliment this spirit-forward cocktail, making it a perfect sipper for a crisp fall day!”
- 1oz. Cutwater Gin
- 1oz. Campari
- 1oz. Sweet vermouth
- ½oz. Blood orange purée
- ½oz. Simple syrup
- Dehydrated blood orange slice, for garnish
Add the gin, Campari, vermouth, orange purée, and simple syrup into a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Then strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass, and garnish with the dehydrated blood orange.
8. New York Boulevard
Esteban Ordonez, mixologist at Great Jones Distilling Company, appreciates the Negroni and especially loves it as an aperitif or digestif. But when the weather starts to change and the temperature drops, he gravitates more towards the Boulevardier, which is the cousin of the Negroni. The Negroni variation below reflects that mood.
“Aside from swapping the gin for Great Jones Bourbon — or the bourbon of your choice—I like to use different proportions,” he says. “I find that slightly increasing the amount of whiskey, while keeping the sweet vermouth and Campari — or in my recipe’s case, the red inferno bitters — makes for a richer, more complex drink and that fuller palate just feels right during the colder weather.”
- 1½ oz. Great Jones Straight Bourbon
- 1 oz. Method Sweet Vermouth
- 1oz. St. Agrestis Inferno Bitters
- Large orange peel, for garnish
Combine the bourbon, vermouth, and bitters with ice in a mixing glass. Stir for 10 seconds, then strain into a chilled Nick and Nora or cocktail coupe. Twist the orange peel over the glass for its essential oils and use the peel as a garnish.
9. The Cornhole
The Cornhole is a riff on the Negroni that features — you guessed it — corn. Specifically, it features the corn liqueur Nixta from Jilotepec, Mexico. “The Cornhole is a creative Negroni take that highlights the elote flavor of the Nixta while using the subtle cola and orange notes of the Meletti to brighten up the rich and malty mouth feel brought on by our new Netherland style gin,” says Marissa Mazzotta, bar manager of Brooklyn’s The Shanty.
- 1½oz. Chief Gowanus Gin
- 1oz. Nixta
- ¾oz. Meletti Amaro
- ¼ pipette of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters
- Orange twist, for garnish
Stir the gin, Nixta, amaro, and bitters in a glass with ice, then strain it over ice in a rocks glass. Take a flame to an orange twist for a few seconds, then use as garnish.