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What’s the best Gin and Vermouth for a Negroni?

August 4, 2015

There is a rule in my house: if I ever make a Negroni for myself, and Victoria is home (or about to come home), I have to make one for her too. Every time. This rule was put in place more than two years ago, and never once has it been broken, never turned down, never exceptioned.

There is only one other such mandate between us, in the case of bacon.

That’s the Negroni. It’s the bacon of cocktails. And yes, I take that comparison as seriously as it deserves, because like bacon, (1) it is always great, and (2) I’m never not in the mood for it.

The Negroni:

[nt] stirring

So first things first — what is a Negroni?

I’m not going to spend too much time on the history, but briefly: from the moment Campari was invented in 1860, it’s had a heedless love for sweet vermouth.

Somewhere along the line, some genius (perhaps Gaspare Campari himself) united them with a little soda water and created the Americano, still the greatest pre-meal cocktail ever made. And the story goes that in 1919, Count Camillo Negroni walked into the Caffe Casoni in Florence and ordered an Americano with gin instead of soda water. He took one sip, lightning struck in the same spot three times, Jesus appeared on a biscotti, and the Negroni cocktail was born (unless it wasn’t. See Trivia, at bottom).

Look anywhere for the recipe for a Negroni and you’ll find the same thing, more or less everywhere, from more or less everyone:

The Negroni
1oz gin
1oz Campari
1oz Sweet Vermouth
Stir, and serve either on ice or up. Garnish with an orange slice or peel.

[nt] intro glamour shot

Almost no one specifies types of gin or vermouth, and in a way, it’s not vital — one of the charms of the Negroni is it’s near invincibility. Use any gin or sweet vermouth you like, and it’s going to taste great. Substitute Campari for any of it’s competitors, and it’s going to taste great. Understir it, overstir it, add orange bitters, screw up the measurements, carbonate it, age it in barrels, do whatever you want to it, and it’ll still be great. It’s great for men or women, first dates or business meetings, after dinner, before dinner, before breakfast, on the train, in outer space, anywhere, always, forever. It’s bitter, it’s sweet, it’s perfect. It is one of the handful of mixed drinks that enjoys universal respect in this industry.

But that’s my problem. I get it, no one looks for the best Negroni because saying “best Negroni” is a little like saying “best orgasm” — yeah, there are shades of difference there, some better than others, but even a terrible one is still better than almost everything else in the world. But. If you could have the best one every time, wouldn’t you?

And so, our question: what’s best? What gin, what vermouth, what combination?

Rules:

These are my guiding principles:

(1) Campari. Bartenders are a tinkery bunch, which is mostly a good thing, but here, we’re sticking with Campari. Yes, a Cynar/Aperol/Cappelletti/etc Negroni is a fine drink, but a true Negroni has to be made with Campari.

(2) Sweet Vermouth. Not dry vermouth, not bianco vermouth, not barolo chinato (which is like double-dutch heaven), but sweet vermouth. The red kind. Because that’s what’s in it.

(3) Gin. It’s made with gin. For the love of god. Not mezcal, not aquavit, not genever, not barrel-aged gin. Gin.

(4) Equal Parts. A Negroni is equal parts Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and Campari. Yes, it comes with a bit of sweetness. Deal with it. The sweetness is part of the charm. There’s no adding more gin. That’s blasphemy, and it also doesn’t taste as good.

Procedures:

Identical glasses, identical large (2″ x 2″) ice, stirred the same amount of times, tasted double blind by both Victoria and I according to the sticker on the bottom of the glass method. As double blind as possible, anyway. Punt e Mes is recognizably darker than the others, but it tastes so different it’s not like we wouldn’t have known anyway.

[nt] double blind

Competitors:

I chose gins and vermouths that are fairly standard. Yes, obviously I’m only tasting 5 each, and yes, I might be missing out on some other brand that makes the Negroni of my dreams. I’m sure you’ll message me about it.

GIN: Beefeater, Tanqueray, Plymouth Navy Strength, Hendrick’s, and Aviation.

VERMOUTH: Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes, Dolin Rouge, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and Martini and Rossi

[nt] intro montage

Process:

First, we did 5 rounds of 5, keeping the gin constant and doing 5 different vermouths. Victoria and I silently rated them, then shared when we were done. Then, we did 5 more rounds, keeping the vermouth constant and doing 5 different gins. By the end, every one of the 25 possible combinations was tasted twice in two different heats. Points were given based on our respective ratings (we didn’t always agree, of course), and the data looked like this:

Negroni raw data

There are a couple different ways to look at this:

The way I like best is to count the amount of times each ingredient earned a 1st place ranking. You’ll notice every ingredient had its own heat, so at one point or another, they all got at least 2 first place prizes, one from each of us.  If I tally up Victoria’s and my votes, the data looks like this:

Number of times each gin won it’s heat:

Tanqueray — 6
Plymouth Navy Strength — 5
Hendricks — 4
Beefeater — 3
Aviation — 2

Number of times each vermouth won it’s heat:

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino — 7
Carpano Antica — 4
Punt e Mes — 4
Dolin — 3
Martini and Rossi — 2

[nt]  test lineup

Another way to sort the data is individual Negroni scores. As we tasted every combination twice and both of us ranked them 1-5 each time, each Negroni has 4 ratings, so if it were #1 every single time, it would score a 4:

By points (lower is better):

Beefeater & Carpano — 6
Tanqueray & Cocchi — 7
Hendricks & Punt e Mes — 7
Aviation & Carpano — 7
Plymouth Navy Strength & Cocchi — 7
Tanqueray & Dolin — 9

This isn’t perfect because they’re rankings as opposed to evaluations, which means even if all 5 were bad (looking at you, Martini and Rossi) they still get ranked 1-5. However, this is how we did the Final Round, because it has the added benefit being fairly diverse, which is good because they’ve already competed against themselves in every possible way.

The final combined results, with my ranking and Victoria’s ranking for reference

6th: Carpano and Aviation | #6 and #5
5th: Plymouth N.S. and Cocchi | #5 and #3
4th: Beefeater and Carpano | #4 and #4
3rd: Hendrick’s and Punt e Mes | #2 and #6
2nd: Tanqueray and Dolin | #3 and #2
1st: Tanqueray and Cocchi | #1 and #1

Not even close. We both, independently, liked Tanqueray and Cocchi best by a significant margin. They were all great, but Tanqueray and Cocchi tasted tasted the most like the ideal Negroni. No hair out of place. As close to perfect as I can imagine.

In fact, of the 6 times Tanqueray and Cocchi was rated, there is only once where it wasn’t #1, a weird spike in the data on our very first test and one I’m tempted to explain away by error, but we’ll never know. Nonetheless:

The Best Negroni*
1oz Tanqueray
1oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
1oz Campari.
Stir on ice. Garnish with an orange peel. Drink. Melt. 

[nt] winner!

*That is, best of the 5 gins and 5 vermouths we tried, of course. And according to our specific palates. Out of only 1:1:1 Negronis. With strict rules. This is a very limited experiment featuring two people and 10 products. But, Tanqueray and Cocchi is now my champion, and what I’ll make against any new combination I’m told about.

Ingredient Conclusions:

GINS

[nt] gin lineup

Tanqueray: The bars I’ve worked at have always carried Beefeater instead of Tanqueray so I’ve never been too familiar with its nuances. But I’m finding the more of these experiments I do, the more I find Tanqueray still standing at the end. I’m beginning to realize what an incredible gin this really is.

Beefeater: Great product, great for Negronis. Most cocktail bartenders I polled before starting this said Beefeater and Carpano are the best, and indeed, it’s great. Carpano was too sweet, too much vanilla for most gins, but Beefeater handles it admirably.

Plymouth Navy Strength: I really thought the strength would counter the sweetness of the cocktail, but it just made most of them kinda flat, like a dampener.

Hendrick’s: Performed better than I would’ve thought. I figured it didn’t have the backbone for this and only included it as a reference point, but it did well. Its floral nature is absorbed by the cocktail and doesn’t stick out. I’ll drink Hendrick’s & Punt e Mes Negronis all day.

Aviation: I love Aviation gin. It won my Martini experiments, after all, but the sarsparilla note comes through as wintergreen, and has no place in a Negroni.

VERMOUTHS:

[nt] vermouth lineup

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino: Performed incredibly well. Mixes with Campari like a dream.

Carpano Antica: Great vermouth, but most of the Negronis, especially against peers, were too sweet with too much vanilla. It’s like a Vanilla Negroni as opposed to just a Negroni.

Punt e Mes: I like Punt e Mes Negronis a lot, but Victoria doesn’t much. It really shouldn’t have been in this experiement because t’s like a spin-off of a Negroni. It’s too different. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a cherry/chocolate Negroni with Punt e Mes, but if I just want a normal one, Punt e Mes is not the answer.

Dolin Rouge: Too weak. All the Negronis with Dolin tasted flat & dull.

Martini and Rossi: Terrible. The worst performer of the whole experience. It tastes like an herb shop. The only time this was best was when it ran unopposed.

 ====================================

Trivia: All of that history up there is true, unless of course Count Camillo Negroni never actually existed, but we’re pretty sure he did. It’s a minor rats nest and I don’t feel like getting into it. If you’re curious, there’s an admirably complete discussion of the topic here.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2015 6:13 am

    Great page, I agree on several points.
    Personally I love Beefeater – Red Martini – Red Campari.
    But I also like very much with Carpano Antica (which should be the nearest to the original flavour), and Tanqueray too.

    Then:
    – Count Camillo Negroni was a real person! His history is well documentated in the book of Luca Picchi: Sulle tracce del conte. La vera storia del cocktail Negroni – Plan 2008. (As everyone may read on your link)

    – about adding a little more of Gin: I’m from Florence, Italy, where Negroni is the most popular cocktail.
    Yes is true, it’s three equal parts.
    Lio Vadorini, bartender at Harry’s Bar of Florence for more than 50 years poured the best Negroni I ever drunk. He used to make it this way:
    fill the old fashioned glass with ice cubes
    fill half a glass with Beefeater
    add two equal part for the rest of the glass, garnish with a slice of orange.
    That was fantastic, a little less sweet, but very well balanced and smooth.
    I use to make it the same way and I ensure you that’s great.
    Please believe me, I drunk a lot of terrible and awesome Negroni and I know very well what I say!

    Thanks a lot,
    Alessandro

    • August 12, 2015 11:01 am

      Alessandro,

      Thank you very much for your reply. I would never attempt to correct a Fiorentino on proper Negroni etiquette, and Mr. Vadorini sounds like he makes an incredible drink. I hope to be able to have it someday.

      I suspect most bartenders who truly love Negronis have a complicated relationship with the proportions. Because yes, the sweetness is a small problem, and my bartender instincts tell me to add more gin to balance it out. And yes, with more gin, the drink is more balanced, as we normally understand the concept.

      But there’s something magic about an equal parts Negroni, and it frustrates me that I can’t describe it. At equal parts, it achieves synergy — the whole greater than the sum of the parts — that seems, to me at least, to go away when you mess with the proportions.

      To put it another way: I find it at 2:1:1 (or 3:2:2) to be a delicious and well balanced combination of gin, Campari, and vermouth. But I find 1:1;1 to be a perfect Negroni.

      I hate being so mystical, but there are a small handful of cocktails that seem to call for it.

      In any event, thank you so much for your reply. Happy drinking,

      — jason

  2. August 19, 2015 5:52 am

    Dear Jason, I deeply understand and appreciate your point of view!

  3. August 28, 2015 4:16 am

    Hey Jason Great post , really agree with your points. I just want to introduce a social drinking app that spread the word and let us help you find more drinking buddies. Reconnect with existing connections or create new once.

  4. October 30, 2015 7:12 am

    Excellent and informative, especially for those of us who know little about it. You should have included a shot of the two of you, just to see if you were still standing!
    Best,
    Julian

  5. Anonymous permalink
    December 15, 2015 3:19 am

    A great post – thoroughly enjoyed it!

  6. December 23, 2015 4:36 pm

    Can I simply say what a relief to uncover a person that truly knows what they are
    talking abot online. You certainly understand how to bring a problem to lighbt and make it important.

    More people have to look at this and understand this side of thhe
    story. I can’t believe yyou aren’t more popular since you definitely have the gift.

  7. January 30, 2016 7:04 am

    Amazing Post! I really enjoyed my visit here..

    Keep Posting…

  8. Boy412 permalink
    January 31, 2016 4:29 pm

    Thanks for posting the results of your little experiment! I know you stated at the beginning that you were only tasting 5 “fairly standard” gins but I’m surprised by your choices. Most of those gins are either gross or grossly overpriced.

    🙂

    There are SO MANY excellent gins being produced today. And Hendrick’s is in its own category…its kinda different.

    Try a Negroni made with Barr Hill Gin (if you can find it). I think that’s the best Negroni I’ve ever had. There is a distillery here in DC (One Eight Distilling) that is producing my current favorite “Ivy City Gin”.

    For a more accessible gin I’ve really been diggin’ New Amsterdam. I don’t understand why its so cheap but it makes a pretty damn good Negroni! I like mine with Carpano Antica and Campari. I’ve also started experimenting with Bitterman’s Xocolatl Mole bitters. 2-3 drops is super yummy!

  9. February 28, 2016 11:17 pm

    So I really have to remember the rules. Aside from the fact that you have given us a better understanding about negroni and everything about this kind of drink, you have broaden our knowledge as well that there are really kinds of drink in the world that we have to know also. And thanks to your post because I got to know another drinks and hopefully, I’ll have a taste of it too.

  10. Jack permalink
    March 26, 2016 6:44 pm

    Looking forward to some new blog post…

    • March 26, 2016 9:24 pm

      I know!

      I’ve been unavoidably detained by planning a wedding for the last 6 or so months. Then I got married a week ago, and am writing from Thailand, where cocktails don’t really exist, and the only single thing I’m excited about when this trip ends is renewing the writing on this blog.

      • Jack permalink
        March 27, 2016 5:45 am

        Congratulations! Have a great honeymoon!

  11. Ben permalink
    March 30, 2016 2:15 am

    Hey Jason, have you had a chance to try a Negroni made up with cocchi VdT and Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength? I tend to agree with you on most things and getting mixed opinions on Martin Miller’s..

    • April 12, 2016 2:25 pm

      I can’t speak to Miller’s negronis because I haven’t had one in ages, but I like Miller’s Westbourne as a gin. I find the cucumber presence extremely pleasant. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

  12. Jess permalink
    August 20, 2016 6:30 pm

    I just made one of these with your winning combination and it is delicious! Thank you!

  13. August 21, 2016 4:28 am

    Please also consider Montanaro Vermouth. Absolutely brilliant, also in Negroni. Made from Moscato wine, instead of the flat and dull Trebbiano (or Ugni blanc, which is the same). A formidable vermouth!!

  14. September 1, 2016 7:56 am

    2:1:1 I’ve had it so many in Florence and that’s always the proportion they make it, and I love it this way!

  15. Chad Kreutzer permalink
    October 14, 2016 1:00 am

    It looks like I’ll have to try a better vermouth, since I didn’t know better when I bought Martini & Rossi for my first bottle of sweet vermouth. That might also explain why I settled on a 3:2:1 proportion.

  16. Anonymous permalink
    November 21, 2016 1:37 pm

    thank you very much. If you wanna taste a perfect Altered Bunhueloni, I suggest to try with this ratio:
    1 1/2 oz Beefeater
    1 oz Punt e Mes
    1/2 oz Campari
    and… lemon twist!

  17. November 30, 2016 2:59 pm

    Lio. the bartender of Florentine Harry’s Bar used to add more gin and less bitter Campari, ’cause americans didn’t like the taste of sweet Campari.
    As I said this was the Negroni everyone appreciated, expecially the foreingners., and so did I

  18. November 30, 2016 3:04 pm

    We are realeased the book of the history of the Florentine Harry’s Bar.
    The text is both english and italian.
    Just to make an advice to people who come to Florence!

  19. December 22, 2016 7:22 am

    Big respect for this!

  20. Monty Mathias permalink
    December 28, 2016 5:05 am

    How have I missed this site for so long? Funny, informative and engrossing. Thank you! And BTW, I agree with you on the M&R in a Negroni; not satisfying. Never tried Hendricks in a Negroni, probably never will. And I skip the bitters. Maybe I should revisit that ingredient?

    • December 28, 2016 5:12 pm

      Thanks so much!

      And bitters? What bitters? From where I sit, Campari’s bitter enough.

  21. February 25, 2017 2:11 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I’m having guests over tonight and wanted to serve them Negronis. Luckily I have exactly your #1 combo of ingredients already on hand. 🙂

Trackbacks

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