The Negroni, a strong Italian-born classic with a huge and committed fan club, fits every season and most occasions.
“It’s bitter, it’s sweet, it feels like it has a bit of salinity to it,” said Isabel Tulloch, the head bartender at Milady’s in New York City. “There’s that beautiful orange expression that makes it a little bit juicy.”
But start playing with the classic Negroni recipe — gin, red bitter aperitif (often Campari) and sweet vermouth — and a host of adjacent alternatives appear.
Drop the gin entirely, and you’re now holding a Milano-Torino. Dating to the 1860s, the Milano-Torino, or “Mi-To,” is named for where its key ingredients originated: one part Campari (from Milano) and one part sweet vermouth (from Torino). Served on the rocks with a slice of orange, it’s lower in alcohol than the Negroni, though the Milano-Torino still benefits from some dilution.
Ms. Tulloch prefers to pour her drink and then find something to do for 10 minutes or so, while the ice melts. “I’ll take out the dog quickly or go wash my face,” she said, “and then I can get back to my beverage.”
Add soda water to the Milano-Torino, and it becomes an Americano. Both the Milano-Torino and the Americano are ancestors to the Negroni, which, according to Florentine lore, was invented in 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender at Caffè Casoni to substitute gin for his Americano’s soda water.
But had he instead swapped the Americano’s vermouth for still white wine, Count Negroni might have been credited with the Bicicletta, an easy cocktail of wine, red bitter liqueur and soda water. Though a dry selection like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc is the classic addition here, Ms. Tulloch suggests swapping in a skin contact, or orange, wine for a bit more tannic complexity.
“So many bartenders have made riffs on the Negroni and, at home, people accidentally make them all the time,” Ms. Tulloch said, adding that her favorite twist involves Aquavit. “It makes it a little more savory and the dill brightens it up.”
One can swap out the gin in a Negroni for Prosecco (or another sparkling wine) for a Sbagliato. Or keep the gin but exchange the sweet vermouth for dry to make a Cardinale. Use rye instead of gin in the Cardinale, and you’ve made an Old Pal. Deploy bourbon instead of rye, and it’s a Boulevardier. While Campari is the king of red bitters, Ms. Tulloch also recommends trying other brands like Faccia Brutto, the Bruto Americano from St. George Spirits or the Crimson Amaro from Catskill Provisions.
And if you’re craving a Negroni-style drink but not drinking alcohol, you also have options. The prebottled Phony Negroni from St. Agrestis is one of Ms. Tulloch’s favorite nonalcoholic alternatives. Bitter-leaning, nonalcoholic sodas such as Sanbittèr, Stappi Red Bitter and Casamara Club Alta can also scratch that aperitivo itch.
The next time you reach for the default Negroni, change it up for one of an array of Negroni-adjacent drinks — without straying too far from the classic’s crimson enchantment.