Modern Classics

Dispatches from the world's best bars.

One of the things I love about the cocktail world is the way its cherished formulas are endlessly revised, expanded, and riffed upon. More than any other quality, what endears a drink recipe to bartenders, and thus secures its status as a classic and template for future variations, is simplicity. Weary barkeeps love a drink they can mix for themselves without a lot of fuss, and more than likely you’ll find off-duty booze slingers unwinding with something simple, forgiving, refreshing, and equally proportioned like the Negroni. It’s no accident, then, that modern bar menus feature a lot of cocktails inspired by this classic combination of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth.

Negroni
Traditional

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with an orange peel.

Even as far back as 1922’s Savoy Cocktail Book, bartenders were tinkering with this versatile formula, giving rise to a number of drinks that are classics in their own right, such as the Old Pal (basically a rye whiskey Negroni with dry instead of sweet vermouth) and the Boulevardier (the same but with bourbon and sweet vermouth).1

In recent years, creative Negroni enthusiasts have taken the drink in a number of interesting directions. Death & Co’s Kingston Negroni, for example, brilliantly deploys the deep, molasses-and-brown sugar flavor of Smith & Cross Jamaican rum as a foil for the aggressive bitterness of Campari:

Kingston Negroni
Death & Co, New York

1 oz. Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum
1 oz. Campari
.75 oz. sweet vermouth

Stir and strain into a chilled coupe.

Another intriguing avenue for modern experimentation with the Negroni is the addition of salt. This somewhat counterintuitive notion was pioneered by Maksym Pazuniak with his minimalistic "Campari Martini" (basically just 3 oz. Campari and a few drops of salt solution), but has more or less been popularized by Giuseppe Gonzalez with his Negroni Swizzle:

Negroni Swizzle
Dutch Kills, New York

1 oz. dry gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz. club soda
Pinch of salt

Build the drink by pouring the ingredients into a tall glass filled with crushed ice and stirring to mix and chill (unless you happen to own a real swizzle stick, in which case just use that). Garnish with an orange peel.

As surprising as it may sound, the salt works very well here to help mellow the Campari and create a more balanced effect.

I’ve been making all of these variations at home for some time now, and, true to the spirit of the drink, I’ve also started trying out my own riffs. I think the most successful of my experiments thus far was inspired by Abraço, a cafe in Manhattan’s East Village.

On a recent trip there, I asked the barista for some sparkling water to drink with my coffee, and he warned me that the only brand they carry, Vichy Catalan, is noticeably high in sodium and thus a bit of an acquired taste. Always up for something weird, I tried it, liked it, and was immediately reminded of the salty/fizzy combination of the Negroni Swizzle. A few weeks later I got around to buying my own bottle and decided to mix my own Vichy Catalan-topped mashup of the Negroni Swizzle and Kingston Negroni with Smith & Cross rum as the base:

Vichy Catalan Negroni2
Original

1 oz. Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Punt e Mes sweet vermouth
1 oz. Vichy Catalan sparkling water

Pour the booze ingredients into Old Fashioned glass (or other short glass) over ice and stir until well chilled. Top with sparkling water and garnish with an orange peel.

I’ve been pretty pleased with the results. The Vichy Catalan contributes both a lovely fizziness and a subtle saltiness that takes the edge off the Campari and helps blend it very nicely with the richly funky rum. The cherry-vanilla notes created by the rum and sweet vermouth make me think of a bitter, slightly salty Cheerwine3. It’s by no means a terribly revolutionary idea, but I love it as a combination of a number of my favorite variations on one of my favorite cocktails, and I expect it to remain my go-to drink as long as the weather stays warm.


  1. Range and Absinthe, two San Francisco restaurants, have refined this “whiskey Negroni” concept into two of my favorite modern variations, the 1794 and the New Pal

  2. Still trying to think of a better/catchier/less branded name. 

  3. This perception is probably somewhat influenced by my fondness for the lovely “Cheerwine Cocktail No. 2” recipe in “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook" (2 oz. Campari, 2 oz. sweet vermouth, 6 oz. Cheerwine, orange peel garnish). 

2 years ago
  1. dailylarc reblogged this from barbook and added:
    For fans of the Negroni, this wonderful post examines a few variations and provides a couple notes on where to try them....
  2. jiggr reblogged this from barbook and added:
    I’ve renamed his Vichy Catalan Negroni. I’m calling it the Salina. Named for a small island in the Aeolus chain, in the...
  3. barbook posted this