Beginning with the former in 1919, Florence, Italy, the story goes that Count Negroni requested a stronger version of his favourite cocktail - the Milano Torino (later known as the Americano - you can see a more detailed discussion here). This drink is a mixture of three elements - Torino vermouth (what we now typically call simply “sweet”), Campari, and soda water on the rocks with a lemon garnish. Swapping the soda for gin and the lemon for orange created one of most enduring classics there is, aptly named the “Negroni.” The beauty of the drink is that each ingredient - spirit, vermouth, amaro - are present in equal parts and balance together perfectly. It is the perfect aperitif: dry enough to stimulate the palate, not too sweet, not too bitter, and not too strong. Variations came about quickly, showing in print as early as 1927 from Harry McElhone’s American Bar in Paris. This most famous twist, called the Boulevardier, swaps gin for bourbon, and in American fashion, is served up rather than on ice. Swapping bourbon for rye and sweet vermouth for dry gives us the Old Pal, and the list goes on. Given how many spirit, fortified wine, and amaro options there are, the possibilities are numerous, but being creative about the structure itself can allow you to create some truly interesting and unique tasting cocktails.
The Negroni is defined not so much by looking at the ingredients this way:
1 part fortified wine
1 part amaro
but rather this way:
1 part sweet
1 part bitter
Below are some classic and contemporary examples. The newer additions include the Negroni Sbagliato (meaning literally “mistaken” because the bartender grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine instead of gin) from mid 20th century Milan, the Hoighty Toighty from Amor y Amargo in New York, the Stenson (named after influential bartender Murray Stenson) from Pourhouse in Vancouver, and The Black Rider, from yours truly.