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The Negroni Through Time |How Has It Changed in 163 Years?

the negroni through time

Ciao, amici dei cocktail. Today we’re looking at the history of the Negroni, and maybe I’ll accuse you of being lazy by always making it with equal parts of its three ingredients. We’ll start before the Negroni was even conceived with two of its predecessors, then we’ll move on to Negroni’s creation and we’ll look at where it sits today - as the Italians would proudly say, Numero Uno. But let’s start at the beginning.

The Negroni cocktail wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for one man, and his last name wasn’t Negroni, but Campari. In 1860 Gaspare Campari created a red bitter liqueur, now famous across the world thanks to the marketing skills of his son, Davide Campari. According to Difford’s Guide, Gaspare was inspired by a cordial he knew from Holland, so he first called it Bitter all' uso d'Hollanda - doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Campari, right? Anyway, probably not long after Gaspare opened his first cafe in Milano somebody mixed his popular liqueur with another pride of Italy, Vermouth di Torino, and the Milano-Torino, or Mi-To was born. Let’s make it.

man stirring cocktail

Milano-Torino (Mi-To)

● 45ml (1.5oz) Campari

● 45ml (1.5oz) Antica Formula

● Orange wedge

The drink couldn’t be simpler, which I think might be a necessity for living la dolce vita. Combine equal parts of our ingredients, add ice and stir to chill and dilute then garnish with an orange wedge. Che bello! This is a bittersweet cocktail that sits a bit further on the sweet side than I’d prefer. Herbs and spices are upfront, with bitterness and orange nicely present as well. It has obvious roots of the Negroni, and it was said to be popular with Americans, who would have a specific way of enjoying their cocktails, they liked to add a splash of soda to their Milano-Torinos, thus giving birth to the Americano.

It’s worth noting that some sources claim soda was already added to the original Mi-To cocktail, but it was then renamed to the Americano because it was so popular among Americans. Also, another fan of the Americano cocktail was none other than 007. While his Vesper Martini order may be more famous, the Americano is the first drink ordered by James Bond in Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s inaugural Bond novel.


● 45ml (1.5oz) Campari

● 45ml (1.5oz) Antica Formula

● Soda water to top

● Lemon peel

Prepare as you would the Mi-To and then top it with soda water - Bond preferred Perrier, because in his words expensive soda water was the cheapest way to improve a poor drink, but we’re making a great drink to begin with, so homemade will be more than fine. And for garnish, a lemon peel with the essential oils expressed over the drink. Let’s give this one a try and see how it compares to the Milano Torino. Saluti!

Soda water brings it more balance without losing too much on the side of the herbs and spices. Sipping this in the heart of Milan during the summer is something well worth the travel to get there. Some sources also claim the Americano was named in honor of the Italian boxer Primo Carnera, who moved to the US and won his first seventeen bouts there by knockout, earning the nickname Americano in his homeland, but chances are both of these drinks were invented at Campari’s bar in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, overlooking Milan’s famous Piazza del Duomo.

“Camparino in Galleria” reopened in 2012 at the same location so if you’re a fan of Negroni or any cocktails made with Campari, you owe it to yourself to go and try it there. You won’t regret it, but the story of the Negroni takes us to the year 1919 in Florence, Tuscany. According to the cocktail lore, that's where count Camillo Negroni, a regular at Caffè Casoni, asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to make his Americano a little stronger.

As stated by Fosco himself, he only added a few drops of gin, but the Count loved it and would always order “the usual” after that. Soon after, the curious guests would also ask for “un americano nello stile del conte Negroni”.Somewhere along the line gin completely replaced the soda water to become an equal parts cocktail known simply as The Negroni, but if you’ve seen any episodes of Old vs New you’ll know it’s never that simple when it comes to the history of cocktails.

orange essential oils expression

One section of the Negroni family claims that there was no Count Camillo Negroni, but it was General Pascal Olivier Comte de Negroni, who invented the Negroni Cocktail, in Senegal. According to some he created it for his wedding in 1857, but with Gaspare creating his bitter in 1860, General Pascal might have enjoyed a drink he christened the Negroni, but it wasn’t the mix of gin, campari and vermouth we all know and love. So the story with Camillo, Fosco and Caffè Casoni is what is accepted by most cocktail historians - and Campari’s marketing team.

In 1947 Orson Welles described what makes this Italian icon work: the bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other. In recent years it has even knocked down the Old Fashioned as the world’s most popular cocktail according to Drinks International, and it has even raised quite a lot of money through Negroni week and charity. So let’s make the Negroni.


● 30ml (1oz) Campari

● 30ml (1oz) Carpano Classico Sweet Vermouth

● 30ml (1oz) Beefeater Gin

● Orange peel

We’re again making it directly in the glass, as is often tradition in Italian bars and cafes. So combine your 3 ingredients in a glass with some ice and give it a stir to chill and dilute. The simplicity of a 3-ingredient equal parts cocktail with a beautiful red color has made the Negroni a true icon that transcends the cocktail world. Fosco Scarselli was also said to have swapped the lemon peel garnish from the American to an orange peel in the Count’s Negroni, so also express one over the top of your drink and drop it in your Negroni. Saluti.

Orange on the aroma, with the spirit-forward bittersweet balance on the palate is the Negroni I fell in love with. There’s always room for improvement, but the combination of gin, Campari and vermouth are all playing their role in harmony, and you should be pretty safe in assuming that anywhere you see the three iconic bottles on the backbar you’ll have a bartender who can mix together 1 oz or 30 ml of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, respectively. If he’ll grab the latter from the fridge is often a different story, but let’s not get into that.

The Negroni has rightfully inspired many variations, starting a whole Negroni Family Tree, with cocktail royalty like the Boulevardier and some trending newcomers, like the Oaxacan Negroni or the Negroni Bianco. And of course, this year's trending hit, the Negroni Sbagliato… with prosecco in it. But there’s also the eternal quest to balance the drink completely based on the ingredients used. In the book Gin: The Manual, Dave Broom actually lists the ratios to use for over 120 gins covered in its pages.

I’m using Canaima gin, a Venezuelan gin made with 10 sustainably sourced botanicals from the Amazon rainforest, as well as one botanical from the distillery's region and eight traditional gin botanicals. I’ll pair it with 9 di Dante Inferno Sweet Vermouth and of course Campari. Finally, to make it the Cocktail Time way, a little saline solution as well. This won’t be an equal parts drink, but based on what I think is the perfect balance of the three.So if you’re using different ingredients you can use this as a template, compare it with the equal parts version and go from there.

Cocktail Time Negroni

● 22.5ml (0.75oz) Campari

● 37.5ml (1oz) Carpano Classico Sweet Vermouth

● 30ml (1oz) Canaima Gin

● 2 drops 20% saline solution

● Orange peel coin

Into a chilled mixing glass add all but the orange peel, fill with ice and give it a stir to chill and dilute. Once properly chilled, strain it over a clear ice block and garnish with an orange peel coin. Perfection. It’s of course unmistakably a Negroni, from aroma to taste. But it’s smoother and richer, with the perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness. Notes of ripe cherries, with tropical and floral notes make this an excellent, elegant and elevated Negroni.

This one’s for all the trying to make the best drinks possible, for themselves, their friends, or their customers. Cheers, Friends of Cocktails. Oh, and if you are still reading and want to learn a fun fact about Campari, did you know that its original bright red color came from carmine? This was derived from a dye made from the scales of cochineal insects. These little bugs are dried and crushed into a bright red powder.

Don’t worry, though, if you’re against ingesting bugs — Campari stopped using carmine in 2006. But other than that the recipe is said to have remained basically the same since 1860. Quite a run, if you ask me. OK, that’s it for today. Until next time, arrivederci e saluti. Ciao.


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