The formula for a Negroni is tried and true. Consisting of equal parts, each fairly accessible, the classic cocktail’s appeal lies, in part, in how dependable it is. But as with everything in the drinks world, a simple build can be seen as a blank canvas, and riffs and mashups abound. Cosmogroni to White Negroni Piña Colada, variations on the bitter trinity of ingredients tend to stretch the idea of the drink into manifestations that some would argue are beyond its confines.
There are, however, upgrades to the Italian drink that still render it as recognizably classic. The Mr. Potato Head approach—substituting different spirits, brands and styles to create something familiar, but new—works particularly well for the Negroni, given the vast array of gins, red bitters and vermouths to experiment with. In fact, such tinkering is how modern classics such as the White Negroni and the Mezcal Negroni came to be. Changing the base spirit is particularly helpful as the seasons change: To winterize a Negroni, New York bar director Brian Evans recommends incorporating a half-teaspoon of Islay Scotch for added depth. It’s a move inspired by Michael Madrusan’s Death & Taxes, itself a cocktail calling on the unexpected duo of Scotch and gin, showcasing “an enlightening blend of robust and malty flavors of blended Scotch rounding out the sharp, botanical edges of a London dry gin,” according to Evans.
To unlock an even fuller range of flavors, turn to a blend, as in the red bitter blend used at Brooklyn’s Misi, or New York bartender Julie Reiner’s “house vermouth” made with extra-bitter Punt e Mes and Cinzano. For a leaner Negroni, the vermouth quotient can be split between dry and sweet, or between vermouth and another fortified wine, such as sherry.
Other Negroni takes benefit from subtle flavor variations. A number of easy Campari infusions, from coconut-washed to strawberry, can put a fruit-forward twist on the classic, for example, while the à la minute method of stirring vermouth with coffee beans can “wake up” the drink, without the need for cold brew or coffee liqueur. An unorthodox method for quickly infusing the Negroni uses the microwave to impart rosemary’s alpine flavor and sweetness from blackberries and grapefruit peel. Or, to give the Negroni an edge without actually introducing new ingredients, this method ages the drink in a coconut to incorporate the tropical fruit’s subtle salty-sweet tang. To soften its edges, meanwhile, consider stirring and straining out raw sushi rice to instantly yield a rounder, richer-textured drink.
A final strategy turns the Negroni (and other aperitivo icons) into warm weather–appropriate sours by shaking the drink with foaming agents or egg white and a touch of citrus juice. The resulting cloudlike foam can turn the already beloved cocktail into an all-year affair—Campari-laden, contemporary and altogether crowd-pleasing.