- A classic Italian aperitivo, the Negroni is the world’s second best-selling classic cocktail.
- A standard Negroni requires just three ingredients: Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth.
- You can make a variety of Negroni-style variations by switching out the gin for another spirit.
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Perhaps one of the easiest drinks to master, the Negroni is a thing of beauty. Made of equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, it is a sophisticated libation with an attractive, bright orange hue and tons of cocktail cred. It was ranked by Drinks International as 2021’s number two best-selling cocktail in the world for the seventh year in a row, just behind the uber-classic old fashioned.
Like many classic cocktails, the origin of the Negroni is hard to pinpoint, says craft spirits expert Melissa Watson (also known as the Negroni Queen). “The most popular version of the story is that in 1919, Count Camillo Negroni walked into his favorite bar in Florence – the Caffe Casoni – and ordered an Americano, which is Campari and sweet vermouth topped with club soda,” says Watson. “He wanted it beefed up and either asked the bartender to include some gin or swap it in instead of the club soda.” Thus, the Negroni was born.
It has become a standard pre-dinner aperitivo across Italy, meant to help open the palate and prepare for the upcoming meal.
“People love Negronis because of the balance,” says Watson. “[It’s] three big, bold ingredients that come together in harmony.” Campari brings bittersweet herbaceous notes, sweet vermouth layers in additional flavor and depth, and gin adds a botanical element, resulting in a drink that is complex, refreshing, and isn’t shy on the ABV.
What is Campari?
The foundation of a Negroni is Campari, invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Northern Italy, and part of the family of herbal liqueur known as amaro. Made of a secret recipe of herbs, spices, and other ingredients, this bright red spirit is bitter and slightly sweet with notes of orange zest, cherry, and cloves (among other flavors).
Variations on the classic
- Boulevardier: Purportedly invented in Paris at world-renowned Harry’s New York Bar, this version swaps the gin for whiskey or bourbon, using the same 1:1:1 ratio. The sweetness of the whiskey or bourbon helps to balance the bitter notes of the Campari.
- White Negroni: This version was invented by British bartender Wayne Collins in 2001 at VinExpo, and calls for equal parts of gin, Lillet Blanc, and Suze gentian liqueur, with a lemon twist garnish. The resulting drink still retains the bitter component of a classic Negroni (thanks to the gentian), but is lighter, and more floral, with a touch of sweetness.
- Mezcal Negroni: This version uses mezcal, a smoky tequila-adjacent liquor, in place of gin. “I’m not super into smoke, but the Negroni is the great harmonizer of big, bold flavors,” says Watson. Garnish with an orange peel.
- Kingston Negroni: Created in 2009 by Joaquín Simó, partner at Pouring Ribbons in NYC, this tropical take uses navy-strength Smith & Cross or another strong Jamaican rum instead of gin. The rum helps temper the bitterness of Campari and works well alongside the complex flavors of vermouth.
- Negroni Sbagliato: Created at Bar Basso in Milan by mistake, this version uses prosecco instead of gin. “You can stick with the equal parts and still have a bold cocktail with just a slight fizz, or you can lengthen it out to something of a Spritz format for a hot afternoon,” says Watson. “Sbagliato translates to wrong – supposedly the bartender grabbed the wrong bottle – but even if it was on purpose, this wrong is so right.”
The Negroni is an Italian aperitivo standard that has found international popularity thanks to its impeccable balance and simple preparation. Anyone can learn to make this classic, as its recipe is just equal parts of good quality gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Stir and serve over ice, and enjoy!