Golden Ratios: The Negroni

by Rhett Williams

To finish off the concept of ‘Golden Ratios,’ we are going to examine two more influential structures. One is a true classic perhaps more popular today than ever, and the other is a contemporary classic, young in age but old in sensibility and inspiration.

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 spirit
  • 1 part fortified wine
  • 1 part amaro 

but rather this way:

  • 1 part dry
  • 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.

Name                          Dry                  Sweet                                    Bitter              Additions

Negroni                          gin                    sweet vermouth                                      Campari           rocks, orange twist

Boulevardier               bourbon        sweet vermouth                                      Campari           orange twist

Old Pal*                          rye                   dry vermouth                                           Campari          

Negroni Sbagliato    sparkling        sweet vermouth                                      Campari           orange twist

Hoighty Toighty        genever          sweet vermouth                                      Cynar                orange twist

Stenson                          bourbon         Calvados                                                    Averna              Boker’s bitters 

The Black Rider**     mezcal             brandy                                                      Cynar (¾)

* for the Old Pal, while the original recipes call for Canadian rye whisky, be aware that due to lack of regulation, the majority of Canadian whisky today contains no rye at all. This drink should be made with American rye for good results. 

** for The Black Rider, use a softer mezcal like Fidencio, and a big, fruity brandy like Torres 5-Year Old. 

Next time we’ll look at some applications of the Red Hook.


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