Bitter, Bold, and Beautiful: 9 Negroni Variations for Cocktail Lovers

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

I'm not sure who could have predicted the ascent of the Negroni: The bitter and bold cocktail, made with Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth, seems like a pretty adventurous step for most folks. But Negroni lovers are a dedicated bunch—I've seen more than one tattoo devoted to the drink—and many drinkers find that their taste for bitter cocktails grows and grows as time goes on.

These days, the Negroni is a category of its own, with bartenders around the country (and the globe) riffing on the basic recipe. You can likely find a cousin of the classic Negroni at any good cocktail bar near you, but now you can also make them at home. Here are nine fresh variations that we're currently falling in love with, plus links to some of our old favorites.

Navy-Strength Negroni Sour

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What would happen if you made a classic sour, but, instead of using a spirit like whiskey or pisco, you subbed in a pre-batched, high-proof Negroni? Douglas Derrick of Ava Gene's in Portland, Oregon, created this recipe to find out. (Spoiler alert: It's crazy-delicious, and perfect for people who like a touch of bitterness but find a stirred Negroni a wee bit too intense.)

I tried a few high-proof (called "Navy-strength") gins in this, but it works best with Plymouth Navy Strength. The classic juniper profile gives you a cocktail that's bright and tart, but richly herbal, too, with a finish that's bitter and smooth.

Get the recipe for the Navy-Strength Negroni Sour »

Unusual Negroni

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It's pretty common to see a White Negroni on cocktail menus these days, but it's definitely not the only lighter spin on the classic. This mellow concoction is perfect for those new to the bitter bite of Italian aperitivi. It calls on Aperol to give the drink a rich orange flavor, bolstered by the honey-and-citrus flavor of golden Lillet Blanc. The subtle floral and cucumber notes of Hendrick's Gin fit right in with the overall gentle character of the cocktail.

Get the recipe for the Unusual Negroni »

Mela d'Alba

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Take the autumnal flavors of the Boulevardier one step further and you have the Mela d'Alba, a Negroni made with spicy high-proof apple brandy, created by Andrew Friedman of Liberty Bar in Seattle. Don't use weaksauce Applejack here; you want the bonded stuff, which clocks in at 100-proof. Friedman really makes sure the apple brandy cuts through the sweetness of the vermouth and Campari, using two parts of it with one part each of the other ingredients. This drink can easily be batched for parties.

Get the recipe for the Mela d'Alba »

Tradewinds Negroni

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Think you've tried it all? I'm guessing you haven't had a drink like this "weird little number," as it's lovingly called by its creator, Justin Elliott of The Townsend in Austin. Elliott makes it with equal parts sweet vermouth, Cointreau, and Angostura bitters (yes, equal parts Angostura bitters!); that version is bracingly spicy and cinnamon-y, with a bitter edge. I like to mix in a little extra sweet vermouth to make it a touch more approachable.

Get the recipe for the Tradewinds Negroni »

Swiss Cartel

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Bye-bye, gin. Say hello to this smooth, almost butterscotch-y relative of the Negroni created by Meaghan Dorman, bar director at The Raines Law Room in New York. Here, aged tequila pairs up with Gran Classico, a nuanced, aromatic aperitif that has some of Campari's bittersweet character, plus a hint of vanilla to soften things up.

Get the recipe for the Swiss Cartel »

Drunk Uncle

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If you like your drinks a little savory, this smoky spin on the Negroni, from bartender Shawn Soole, is for you. Peaty Scotch gives the cocktail a woodsy character that's emphasized by swapping the standard Campari for Cynar, a vegetal, bittersweet liqueur. Bianco vermouth adds a sweet, citrusy, and herbal flavor, without stealing the spotlight. This drink would be right at home with your holiday prime rib or crown roast of lamb.

Get the recipe for the Drunk Uncle »

Paloma Point

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If the Americano and the Paloma leave you wishing for a little more gutsy flavor, this mashup drink—dreamed up by Pete Stanton, head bartender at Ai Fiori—will be right up your alley. This bitter, juicy, lightly savory cooler combines smoky mezcal and fresh grapefruit juice (hey, Paloma) with a mix of Campari and luscious Punt e Mes (two bottles that make a mighty nice Americano). Top with club soda, and you'll need a second round soon.

Get the recipe for the Paloma Point »

Midnight Stroll

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This extra-bitter version of a Boulevardier, created by Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon, gives the classic whiskey take on the Negroni a run for its money. There's an ample pour of rye whiskey to start, layered with rich red Campari. But instead of sweet vermouth, Lockman calls for a mix of orange liqueur and cinnamon-y, cardamom-y Amaro Ramazzotti. This combination, notes Lockman, "adds depth without overcomplicating the recipe and complements the bittersweetness of the Campari just right." The Midnight Stroll is a bit less fruity than a Boulevardier, with a kick of spice.

Get the recipe for the Midnight Stroll »

Palpable Apathy

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This one definitely isn't for everybody, but if you're a fan of bold bottles like Fernet-Branca and you're looking for an unusual, truly bittersweet cocktail, you've got to try it. Created by David Little, owner/operator of Barnacle in Seattle, it riffs on the Boulevardier with Braulio, a minty, pungent, warm-spiced amaro that dates back to 1875, but was acquired by Gruppo Campari a few years back. This rich, robust drink is not playing, but if you've made your way through the list above, you're probably ready.

Get the recipe for the Palpable Apathy »

The Basics

Just hopping on to the Negroni train? We recommend starting with these tried-and-true standbys:

  • Your first order of business is a classic Negroni, bittersweet, rich, herbal, and easy to make. For best results, make sure that bottle of vermouth hasn't been sitting in your cupboard for a year: Vermouth should be stored in the fridge, and it doesn't last forever.
  • For a lighter tipple, try a fizzy Negroni Sbagliato, made with sweet vermouth, Campari, and fruity Prosecco. It's a bit lower in alcohol than the gin version, so it's especially nice for daytime.
  • Stir juniper-laced gin with lightly sweet and bright Dolin Blanc instead of robust red sweet vermouth, then swap out the Campari for Cocchi Americano, and you've got the White Negroni—luscious but delicate, and wonderfully herbal.
  • If warm weather lingers where you are and you're into frozen drinks, let us convince you that the best possible use of your blender is not a Frozen Margarita, nor even a Frozen Mezcal Paloma (as good as it is), but a Frozen Negroni. Bracing, bitter, and exquisitely refreshing, it's ideal for prepping in advance for a party: Just whiz it up with ice when you're ready to chill out.
  • On the other hand, if it's truly starting to feel like fall, you may be craving cocktails driven by whiskey instead of gin. That's when you'll want to try a Boulevardier, which simply swaps out the latter for the former in the classic recipe. The result is rich and broody, bitter and satisfying. I like the rye version best—add a little extra rye if you like your cocktails on the dry side.