Riff Diaries: The Negroni

Italy's strong and bitter swashbuckler, three different ways.

Like all stories should, the tale of the Negroni begins with debauched nobility. Most accounts credit the recipe to one Count Negroni, a swashbuckling proto-boho who reportedly spent time as a rodeo cowboy in the United States.

Compounding his wild ways, legend has it that, back at a bar in Florence in 1919, he asked for a something like an Americano, but boozier. Swap gin for soda water, and presto: the Negroni. Navigating a through line between bitter and sweet, this powerful drink—a study in balance—has evolved into one of the cornerstones of the classic cocktail revival.

It’s also one of the simplest cocktail formulas in existence (one-to-one-to-one) and, thus, one of the most endlessly riffable. (It was conceived on the very premise of experimentation, after all.) Like Count Negroni, bartenders the world over are having a love affair with the cocktail’s basic equation of strong-bitter-sweet, guaranteeing that at least one variation of the drink—whether it be barrel-aged, bottled or taken apart and reassembled—will find its way onto a cocktail menu near you. Some versions simply switch gin for another base spirit like rum (Joaquín Simó’s Kingston Negroni) while others mix up the bitter element using gentian-based aperitif wines in place of Campari (Polka Dot Negroni). Likewise, the sweet element—originally sweet vermouth—is easily changed out for lighter variants like Lillet Blanc (White Negroni).

Despite its all-booze architecture, the Negroni is still dangerously poundable. And we at PUNCH are all too familiar with what comes of one too many (read: any more than one) pre-dinner Negronis. Consider yourself forewarned.

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