Recently, I have been focusing on (and sampling) the variety of sweet vermouths, some newer brands and some good old classics. I thought it would be fun to do a little Negroni test. By using the same base recipe but changing the vermouth each time, you can create a very different tasting experience.
Negroni is a great classic cocktail, yet it can take a few goes before one starts to love this bright red, bitter cocktail. Changing vermouth is a great way to find the right balance of sweetness, texture and botanicals that most suit your taste buds.
Let’s start from the basics.
Negroni is made with equal parts of gin, bitter (most often Campari) and sweet vermouth. Of course, there are variations of this, but I will be focusing on the classic recipe.
Gin: In my opinion, the gin should be strong, ideally 40% ABV+. I often choose a navy strength gin, but as I will be testing five cocktails, I better settle for 42% ABV. You can change the flavour profile of the cocktail by changing the style of gin you use. As this article is about the influence of vermouth in a Negroni, I have decided to go with a classic juniper strong option, Tarquin’s Cornish Dry Gin. It really is my go-to gin to use at home for Negroni (their Seadog Navy Strength also makes a killer Negroni!). The botanicals list includes fresh citrus peels, violets, green cardamom, cinnamon, bitter almonds, coriander, liquorice, angelica and orris root.
Bitter: I pretty much always choose Campari, because I can be sure what level of bitterness to expect. Currently, I also have La Valdotaine Aperitivo at home, which is an excellent bitter liqueur, but not nearly as bitter as Campari. Check my previous blog post for more information about Italian aperitivo bitters and how to use them.
Vermouth: The classic Negroni requires sweet vermouth, also known as red vermouth. The range of vermouths available is vast, and they vary from extremely sweet to moderately bitter based on the sugar levels and botanicals used. The only mandatory botanical in vermouth is artemisia, but as it covers hundreds of herbaceous plants, it doesn’t really give enough indication on the flavour. Most vermouths have a secret family recipe, and they rarely reveal any of the botanicals used. You can learn more about sweet vermouth here.
Travelling to Florence? Check my Negroni recommendations in the city.
One Negroni, five vermouths
And now to the experiment. I have named each Negroni by the vermouth used.
Verney Vermouth delle Alpi
Verney vermouth, 16.5% ABV, is made by the distillery La Valdotaine from Aosta Valley in northern Italy. They use local mountain botanicals in all their drinks. Like with most vermouths, the botanicals list is kept a secret, but we do know the recipe includes savory, artemisia and Alpine thyme.
Negroni verdict: With equal parts, the vermouth shines through the most. The colour is not as bright either as the vermouth is fairly dark, making the cocktail slightly brown. The subtle bitterness comes first followed by nice sweetness, nothing too sugary. The aftertaste has a slight spiciness to it. Very pleasant Negroni.
Punt e Mes
Punt e Mes, 16% ABV, is bitter vermouth with a herbaceous flavour profile. Punt e Mes means “a point and a half”. The story goes that a stockbroker ordered his usual Carpano vermouth but asked for an extra half a measure of bitter. It is basically somewhere between sweet vermouth and amaro. This vermouth contains quinine which explains the bitterness, and ten other botanicals. It tastes a lot like sloes, tobacco, cranberries, and some orange peel.
Negroni verdict: I must admit, I’ve never been too keen on Punt e Mes Negroni as the overly herbal and almost tobacco-like flavours just don’t belong to Negroni. It just doesn’t do it for me.
Hotel Starlino vermouth, 17% ABV, is very sweet and fruity vermouth. The botanicals list includes wormwood, cloves, vanilla, rhubarb, grape skin, raisins, bitter orange peel and more. The Starlino has also been aged in ex-bourbon barrels for 30 days.
Negroni verdict: This Negroni has a lovely red colour. The Starlino contributes to a fairly sweet Negroni. At first, the flavours are quite fresh, almost eucalyptus-like, followed by the sweetness of elderflower, raisins and vanilla. The aftertaste is a bit more bitter and citrusy; I’m thinking of bitter orange and pink grapefruit peels. This would make a good starter Negroni for someone new to this cocktail.
Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino
Cocchi Storico, 16% AV, tastes like mulled wine. It is rich, juicy and spicy, but not very bitter. You can detect some bitter orange, raisins, nutmeg, star anise, cinnamon, cocoa and rhubarb.
Negroni verdict: Cocchi Storico Negroni is quite sweet with plenty of fruity red berry flavours, lingonberry jam and cinnamon. Perfect for someone who is not too keen on the bitter profile of Negroni.
Valentian vermouth, 16% ABV, is made using a blend of Italian white wines and Scottish new make malt spirit. The botanicals list includes rhubarb, three types of wormwood, bergamot, sage, liquorice, cinnamon and more. This is more bitter vermouth than some of the classic sweet vermouths. You can taste a lot of bergamot and rhubarb, but there is a nice balanced sweetness in there as well.
Negroni verdict: The colour is nice and bright. You get some sweetness at first, but once the drink dilutes a little more, you start to taste the bitterness with lovely candied orange and rhubarb flavours. Valentian is not very fruity, and it is lighter bodied, but it does make a very enjoyable Negroni.
I love how changing just one ingredient can offer you a completely different tasting experience. I enjoyed all serves, but one. For me, Punt e Mes just doesn’t work in a Negroni, but I don’t mind it in some other cocktails. Perhaps it is the combination of bitter Campari and herbal vermouth that are just too intense together.
I would happily recommend all the other serves. There’s a Negroni for all the palates. Sometimes I fancy something a bit juicier, and other times bitter is the only one that works. If I’d have to choose two right now, I’d go with Valentian vermouth and Verney vermouth.
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