Unlike a sweet and citrusy drink like a Whiskey Sour or Daiquiri, which immediately draw you in with their approachable flavors, a Negroni can be elusive to new drinkers. The strongly bitter Campari that anchors the cocktail is an acquired taste, and the cocktail can be tricky to master at home, even if you’re a big fan of the bright red Italian aperitif. To learn what separates an alluringly delicious Negroni from a bitter wreck, we looked to Max Green, head bartender of New York’s Amor y Amargo, a veritable playground for bitter cocktail lovers. Heed his advice, and you’ll be mixing a perfectly balanced Negroni in no time.
Using the Right Kind of Gin
The gin market has exploded in recent years, and Americans now have access to more styles (think Old Tom and Genever) than ever before. While all of those gins might make an interesting Negroni, they won’t quite live up to a cocktail made with the classic London Dry. “If you’re not using London Dry gin in your Negroni, you’re missing out,” Green says. “The botanical nature of the gin just works with the Campari and sweet vermouth. If you’re using a new age gin, you’re losing out on all those spice notes, that heat that needs to be in a Negroni.” Green prefers Beefeater, and you can pick up a bottle for less than $30—which is perfect if you want to experiment with new formulas and not worry about wasting something super expensive.
Picking the Best Vermouth
Green prefers the familiarity of classic vermouth brands like Carpano Antica and Torino. While he says you should feel free to experiment with newer brands, look for a moderately bitter sweet vermouth with floral, vanilla and chocolate notes to achieve the ideal, classic Negroni flavor.
Never Compromise on Campari
You can compromise on a lot and still call the drink a Negroni, but “the one ingredient that is not subbable is the Campari,” Green says. If a customer requests a Negroni variation, Green is more than happy to oblige, though he won’t call it a true Negroni. He’s calculated that with all the bitter ingredients lining the shelves of Amor y Amargo, he could make something like 3.4 million Negroni combinations. “That being said, a lot of them aren’t very good,” he says. “You can throw three ingredients together; that doesn’t mean it’s going to taste nice.”
Finding the Right Ratio
Green prefers a ratio of two parts gin (1.5 ounces) to one part vermouth (.75 ounces) and one part Campari (.75 ounces). Because Amor y Amargo goes all in on bitters, they also add two dashes of Angostura to round it out.
“The two-one-one build is going to be a little bit more bitter and a little more spirituous, which is how I like my Negroni,” Green says. “I find an equal parts Negroni to be a little syrupy, but that’s how a lot of people like their Negroni. Some people like more Campari or more vermouth. Personal taste is personal taste.” While Green definitely has his own preferences and way of making the Amor y Amargo standard, he encourages home bartenders to experiment to find the right ratio for them. As long as you have the correct three ingredients, your exact Negroni can be as sweet, boozy or bitter as you like. But whatever you do, Green says don’t be a slave to a single recipe.
Achieving the Perfect Dilution
“A lot of people like Negronis served up,” Green says. “I personally prefer Negronis on the rocks.” He also under-stirs the drink, just a touch. “I like the drink coming out a little hot,” he says. “We still spin our Negroni in a mixing glass, but I’m going to serve it knowing it’ll go on ice, so that first sip might be a little hotter than your last [sip].”
Green suggests you practice stirring your Negroni at home, tasting every three to four rotations to see when the drink reaches the perfect dilution for you. The amount of stirring required varies greatly based on the ice—especially if the ice is chipped or melting. But for reference, 20 revolutions is a good place to start. And when in doubt, under-stir like Green. “Especially if you’re going to be serving that drink on ice, you can lean on the side of under-diluted because you can always stir it in the glass to get it where you want it,” he says. “You can always add water, but you can never take water out.”
Finishing with the Right Garnish
The standard orange twist makes a killer Negroni, but feel free to riff on the garnish the way you might with the spirit or vermouth. “I love a Cynar Negroni with the same build with some grapefruit bitters and a grapefruit twist in there,” he says.