The Negroni, Revisited
On the 100th anniversary of the Negroni, we provide two animal-friendly alternatives
Want a cocktail veganized? Bought a bottle of something and don’t know what to do with it? Need a cool mocktail? Want to make your own liqueur? We’ll drink to that. Bartenderly is here to make all your vegan drinking dreams come true. If you want to check on whether a specific brand of alcohol is vegan, I recommend Barnivore.
2019 marks the 100th year of the Negroni’s existence. Unfortunately, it also marks the year I found out that Campari, the key ingredient to this classic cocktail, is not vegan. The product itself contains no animal products, but during its filtration process ingredients like gelatin come into use. Filtration of wine and spirits can really cut down the options for drinking vegans, and depending on your stance or your particular needs at any given moment you may decide to look the other way and just get the drink. We’re all on our own particular journey here! Currently though, it looks like my journey involves not drinking Campari.
I was extremely gloomy at this prospect as I love its acquired taste and ruby-red colour, and the Negroni is an unimpeachably perfect drink. Equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth, it supposedly first emerged as an upgrade on the Americano cocktail (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water) when in 1919 the devil-may-care Count Negroni rakishly swapped his mixer for even more booze in the form of gin.
The drink has seen a massive resurgence in the last decade, due to an increased interest in classic cocktails with well-crafted ingredients; gin’s staggering rise in popularity; and, though this is pure speculation, probably the Instagram-friendly nature of the Negroni’s red colour— it looks so good in photos and, not tied to any particular season, can be depicted on social media all year round.
So what’s a cocktail enthusiast vegan to do when they want to partake in this tradition but remain free from animal products? Well, I’ve come up with some solutions for you.
Firstly, I’ve made you an Aperol Negroni. Aperol is like Campari’s softer cousin: lower in alcohol, mellower in flavour, sunset-orange in colour. And importantly, its filtration process is free from animal products!
Here, I’ve matched it with Dolin dry vermouth, also vegan-friendly with a full-bodied aromatic crispness plus a little herbal bitterness of its own to balance Aperol’s sweetness. And gin, of course — Beefeater London Dry is my go-to, a solid workhorse gin with a clean, juniper-rich flavour and great texture that holds its own in a strong cocktail. But there are literally hundreds on the market for you to choose from, each with their own subtle differences in flavour profile and botanicals. The finished drink is milder than a classic Negroni but has its own distinct push-pull of bitter and sweet with a gorgeous orange hue. Perfect before dinner, on a sunny afternoon, late at night, alongside brunch — there’s no wrong time for this.
- 1oz Aperol
- 1oz London Dry Gin, such as Beefeater
- 1oz Dolin dry vermouth, or your preferred dry vermouth
- Slice of orange peel, for garnish
Place all three ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass, or, if you don’t have one, just use a large high-sided tumbler — fill with fresh, clean ice, and gently stir until the ingredients are combined and diluted to your preferred taste. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Alternatively, you can both make and then serve it over ice in a short tumbler. I just felt this more delicate Negroni variation would look good served in a stemmed glass.
Either way, carefully squeeze the orange peel over the surface of your glass so that some of the pure oils in the peel burst out into your drink, and then drop the peel into the glass. Serves one.
Another option is a cocktail that’s become a modern classic in its own right: the White Negroni. This fascinatingly delicious drink, invented in 2001 by British bartender Wayne Collins, uses equal parts gin, Lillet Blanc, and Suze. Lillet is an aromatic French fortified wine, similar to vermouth, and famously deployed in James Bond’s Vesper Martini. Suze is a challenging and polarising aperitif — I remember when I first tried it, all I could taste was freshly mown grass with a hint of dirt-covered asparagus. Despite my initial misgivings I grew to love the stuff, and if anything the earthy, vegetal flavour is exhilarating in its intensity. I could not for the life of me find any information on whether it’s filtered using animal products but nor did any of my research indicate that any have been used — so till then I’m choosing, with my fingers tightly crossed in the hope that I’m not contradicted, to proclaim it vegan-friendly. This cocktail has the heady, boozy richness of the original Negroni, with a bracing herbal hit and a pale golden colour.
A recipe by British bartender Wayne Collins
- 1oz London Dry Gin
- 1oz Lillet Blanc
- 1oz Suze
- Slice of lemon peel, for garnish, or pink grapefruit peel if you have it
Place the gin, the Lillet, and the Suze in a short tumbler, and fill with fresh, clean ice. Gently stir until the drink has slightly diluted. Take the lemon peel and squeeze it over the surface of the drink, so the lemon oils are released into it, then tuck the lemon peel down the side of the glass and drink up.
Both these drinks involve stirring down your spirits over ice which allows the drink to be rapidly chilled and slightly diluted in much the same way that shaking a cocktail does. As a general rule, drinks with citrus, juices, or other non-alcoholic ingredients are shaken and drinks that are primarily spirit are stirred. The former requires more emulsification and aeration from having the ice shaken through it rapidly, unlike, say, a Martini, where you simply want to gently combine the ingredients with as little disruption to the texture as possible.
It’s quite straightforward — simply use a long-handled teaspoon, or even a skewer, to smoothly move the ice around the inside of your glass. I’m afraid there’s no magic length of time or perfect number of stirs, but you could start by counting to ten as you go and see how that works for you. Just remember: less is more, especially if the drink is served over ice where it will continue to dilute in the glass; taste as you go, and trust your own tastebuds!
The Negroni isn’t just a wonderful drink because it’s delicious — its formula is also a fantastic blueprint for creativity. Equal parts spirit, vermouth, and bitter allows for so many more variations than what I’ve shown you here, and I encourage you to try your own.
It’s worth noting too, that until around 2006, Campari’s distinctive colour was due to carmine — derived from cochineal beetles — and they now use an artificial colour. I feel like this crucial change to such an ancient and tightly-kept secret recipe is a promising start — here’s hoping the filtration process changes in the future too, so all of us can enjoy a classic Negroni.
All photos taken at Laundry Bar in Wellington, New Zealand.