The Negroni Is a Century Old, but Just Hitting Its Stride

The Negroni turns 100 this year. As recently as a decade ago, that bit of news would have drawn blank faces, communicating “So?” or “Who cares?” or even “What’s a Negroni?”

Today the Negroni is, quite simply, one of the most consumed cocktails in the world, and the most successful mixed drink ever to come out of Italy — a country better known for light drinks, often with food. In 2018, the Negroni was the second most called-for cocktail worldwide, surpassed only by the old-fashioned, according to a recent poll of more than 100 bars conducted by the magazine Drinks International.

There are now Negronis to suit all needs. If you want the classic recipe — basically, a strong concoction of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and an Italian or Italianate bitter aperitivo (traditionally Campari) — most bars and restaurants have you covered.

But now that summer is here, you may long for a frozen Negroni. Lake Street Bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, among other bars, can help out. If, for convenience’s sake, you wanted to pick up a bottled Negroni, there are a few brands out there, including St. Agrestis and one made by Campari itself. And there are Negroni bars that serve an array of variations, like the one in Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center, and Negroni menus, like the one at Dante in Greenwich Village.

Cocktail nerds hoping for a full-on Negroni conference got their wish in May, during “Florence Cocktail Week,” in the city where the drink was created. This week is Negroni Week, a worldwide celebration that benefits charities. A documentary film on the Negroni will be released this year by the Italian director Federico Micali.

You can thank young cocktail bartenders for transforming the Negroni from a relatively obscure epicurean delight enjoyed by the “La Dolce Vita” types of the 1950s and ’60s, and globe-trotting artists — Orson Welles and Tennessee Williams sang its virtues — to an everyday refreshment.

Luca Picchi, who wrote “Negroni Cocktail: An Italian Legend,” thinks the drink’s fame owes something to its name: the surname of Camillo Negroni, a Florentine count who liked his Americano cocktails spiked with gin. Mr. Picchi pointed out that the word Negroni, like classic cocktail names, is now recognizable in virtually any language.

The low chance of messing up the drink also works in its favor. David Wondrich, a cocktail historian who has tracked the Negroni’s rise, was once served one made with Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce, made by a bartender who apparently had confused the drink with the Bloody Mary. “It wasn’t terrible,” Mr. Wondrich said. “The Negroni is proof against anything. You can bounce anything off it.”

In recent years, mezcal, aquavit, rum and even bourbon have been substituted for the gin. (The whiskey version, called a Boulevardier, is nearly as popular at the Negroni itself.) Ingredients as disparate as sloe gin, coffee, tea and rosé have found their way into various riffs.

Perhaps no other place has served more Negroni variations than Nostrana, in Portland, Ore. In 2010, the restaurant began serving a different version every month. (Nostrana was one of inspirations behind Negroni Week.) Its current Negroni of the Month is Blue Jay Wray, by Tom Lindstedt of La Moule. It’s made of Cappelletti (an Italian aperitivo), Campari, Wray & Nephew rum and the rumlike spirit Batavia-Arrack.

Past Negronis at Nostrana have included recipes that called for beer, ice cubes made of Campari and, memorably, squid ink. “It looked a little scary,” said Colleen Kenny, the bar director there, “but it tasted just fine.”

So what do Pier Lamberto Negroni Bentivoglio and Paolo Andalò Negroni Bentivoglio, grandchildren of the count, think about the family’s unlikely legacy? “We can only be proud of it,” Paulo said by email. “Once you taste a Negroni, you never go back.”

Recipes: Classic Negroni | Kingston Negroni | Negroni and the Goat | Negroni Mela

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