Negroni + Amaro = Negromaro

The past few months have seen a plethora of new products on the market. Some have been long anticipated, like Crème Yvette from Ron Cooper or Cocchi Americano, the Kina Lillet surrogate which has now been re-introduced in the U.S. by Eric Seed and Haus Alpenz. There’s also Gran Classico bitter, from Tempus Fugit, which provides us with an alternative to Campari without the food coloring, and Amaro Montenegro, absent for several years from US shelves after its importer was bought by Frexinet. Still to come is Maker’s 46, just barely creeping into some markets (or so I hear), a new (clear!) violet liqueur from Tempus Fugit, plus whatever surprises might await us in New Orleans. (I know of at least one!) Frankly, I expect to be playing catch up for the rest of the summer.

Gran Classico vs. Campari

Last week I bought a bottle of Gran Classico which has started showing up on the shelves of liquors stores and bars all over town. I sampled it last year during SF Cocktail Week, first neat and then in the form of a Negroni, made with Voyager gin and Carpano Antica Formula vermouth. That cocktail was amazing and, well, it set a standard for what a Negroni could (and should) be. I’d been craving a chance to have another ever since.

There is going to be a tendency for people in the cocktail business who stress the importance of natural flavors and traditional (non-industrial) processes to simply embrace Gran Classico (which contains no added colorants) as a de-facto replacement for Campari (a product made on a much vaster scale). However, in the interest of fairness and for my own education, I thought a little A-B comparison would be in order.

I would normally do a comparison between spirits blind but the difference in color between the Gran Classico and Campari is so startling as to make such precautions pointless: the Gran Classico is medium-amber in color while the Campari is intensely red. (For some reason it made me think of red M&Ms, the color of which is definitely NOT natural.) The Gran Classico is also far more viscous and syrupy in appearance than Campari and the nose is less intensely bitter, more muted. Campari, I now realize, really smells bitter and dusty! I dunno: that could be a good thing when it comes to mixing with it.

The viscosity I detected in the glass follows straight through into the mouthfeel of the Gran Classico. There are several layers to the flavor including bright vanilla notes, marmalade and wormwood. Surprisingly, it finishes pretty sweet. The Campari also leaves you with a sugary finish, but its flavor is far less complex overall, dare I say unidimensional.

Which do I prefer? Oh, the Gran Classico is a far more attractive and nuanced product. It would seem to be a better starting place for any cocktail that calls for Campari and probably Aperol. My only lingering doubt is whether, by the time it’s mixed with other ingredients, its superior attributes will still stand out. That’s something that’s going to merit some more investigation.

A new amari standard

The same day I obtained the Gran Classico, I also purchased a bottle of the Bortolo Nardini amaro, inspired by an upcoming seminar on bitter spirits at Tales of the Cocktail (A Shot of the Black Stuff). I had tried a number of the Nardini products before: the lemony, if somewhat sweet, Acqua di Cedro and the almost indescribable Tagliatella. But not the amaro. I am so glad I did! Much as I LOVE the Amaro Montenegro (which is like drinking flowers), the Nardini set my new standard for what an amaro could be: layers of licorice, vanilla, orange peel, cola, and a hint of lavender.

(Damn. I have to stop writing and pour myself a glass right now. Wait. OK. Ah! Better!)

Together with these two new lovely purchases, I gathered my bottle of Carpano Antica Formula vermouth and my bottle of Beefeater 24 (generously gifted to me by the folks at Pernod-Ricard) and set myself to the task of making some cocktails.

And this is what I did…

Negroni (classic proportions)

1 oz. Beefeater 24
1 oz. Carpano Antica Formula vermouth [try 3/4 carpano instead]
1 oz. Gran Classico bitter

Stir over ice for 30 seconds.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a long thin lemon peel strip, tied into a knot.

As delicious as I remember it! Gran Classico bitter has won a permanent place in my home bar. You’ll note however, that I swapped Beefeater 24 for the Voyager gin. After some consideration, I felt that the Voyager, with its citrus peel/sweet tea nose and soft finish, would be lost under all the vermouth and bitter. B24, lemony and creamy in the nose as it is, is still a juniper-forward product that asserts itself more intensely on the palate. I felt it would balance better against the other ingredients.

Now, do you recall I mentioned that the Gran Classico was pretty syrupy and had a distinct sugary finish? Well, I definitely saw that play through into the Negroni as made using the traditional proportions above. I’ve seen the exact same thing with Negronis made with Campari. For this reason many bartenders cut back the proportions of the vermouth and bitters, to dry the cocktail out. I suppose this reflects as much on the modern cocktail palate as anything else. The Negroni recipe on the back of the Gran Classico bottle makes just such an adjustment. Recently I’ve even had a Negroni made with Dolin blanc in place of the sweet vermouth, an accident best as I can tell. That becomes a different cocktail all together, quite enjoyable in it’s own way, like most everything else made with Dolin blanc!

The last time I tinkered with this aspect of the Negroni, I replaced half of the Campari with Amaro Nonino. That was pretty damn tasty but it just didn’t seem to go far enough. Inspired by that lovely bottle of Nardini amaro, I decided to ‘go darker’ yet, resulting in the following formulation:

Negromaro (or Nardini Negroni)

1 oz. Beefeater 24
1 oz. Bartolo Nardini amaro
3/4 oz. Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

At this point, the Negroni has been pretty well transformed into something new. The amaro lends distinct dark notes to the mixture, in particular the flavor of sweet licorice (not to be ever confused with anise), but is itself now tamed by being paired with gin and vermouth. Damn satisfying.

OK, I better stop here or I’m never going to finish this ambling blog post. Salute!


16 Responses to “Negroni + Amaro = Negromaro”

  1. Thanks for the comparison- I haven’t had the Gran Classico and Campari side by side yet.

  2. Have you tried the Nardini Rabarbaro? A Rhubarb based amaro. As part replacement of the vermouth it makes a fantastic rhubarb negroni. It is on our list here…

  3. Unfortunately, I have not seen this for sale in any of the stores I frequent. I am not sure anyone is importing it but I will double check.

  4. Hi there!

    I was wondering if I could speak with you about one of my clients. Is there a way to reach you more directly, perhaps via e-mail?

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  5. Interesting post. I haven`t tried the Gran Classico yet. As an avid fan of Campari and also Aperol i wouldn`t say anything would replace them..but surely add another dimension and variation which is always a good thing!

  6. @Tiare: I’ll be interested to read your impressions of Gran Classico when you get a chance to try it and do your own comparison.

    I read on eGullet that some people think that the flavor of Campari changed in 2008 when it switched from using natural coloring (cochineal-based) to artificial coloring. You were in fact one of the people who commented on this! :-> So perhaps the most interesting comparison would be between Gran Classico and the pre-2008 Campari.

  7. I`ll definetily write about it if i by any chance can get my hands on it someday. Its definetily not sold here.

    As for the Campari its true that there´s a slight flavor difference since they took away the cochineal. But the difference isn`t very big, its subtle, but its there.

    Its very hard though to get hold of an old bottle, it would be from EBay then..

  8. Gran Classico works rather well for simple cocktails with a fair amount of Campari is called for: Negroni, Old Pal, etc.

    In those where Campari is used for a coloring and bittering agent, Gran Classico does not work so well: Jasmine and probably Tailspin (though I have not tried it in a Tailspin).

    What it means that Gran Classico works well in European and pre-prohibition cocktails and Modern Campari works well in cocktails from the 1940s and forward I cannot say.

    Did the formula of Campari change during prohibition? Perhaps they made it more bitter, as many other potable bitters did, to make it more acceptable to those enforcing prohibition? Hard to say without a true vintage sample.

  9. Erik, thanks for stopping by and chiming in.

    I will definitely give Gran Classico try in a Jasmine and the Tailspin (as dictated by Robert Hess, who seems to be the originator of the version that calls for Campari).

    Curious to know where you stand on the alleged change in taste that occurred when Campari switched from using cochineal/E120 to whatever artificial coloring replaced it.


  10. I wouldn’t bother with a Jasmine, it is pretty awful with the Gran Classico. Several people I know have tried to “fix” the recipe to work with GC without success.

    I do have a Rye Whiskey cocktail I’ve been working on…

    Not sure about the taste change with the recent colorant change.

    Officials from Campari claim there was no other change in the formula than the colorant. It might be there was a change, but perhaps no more variation than the normal batch to batch change due to differences in herb variation. Or maybe all the batches with cochineal/E120 were really old and mellowed by the time we got the new colorant.

    On the other hand, I find representatives for large liquor companies are often neither particularly well informed nor forthcoming with what information they have about their products.

    It is a very popular product in Italy, so I find it hard to believe that they could do much to mess with it that wouldn’t be clearly denounced by the Italian consumers.

  11. Now I need to come by HD to see about that rye cocktail. Are you working any shifts this week?

  12. I’ll be there Saturday and Sunday.

  13. […] For more cocktails ideas with Amaro Nardini Michael Lazar did a great writeup on his blog for the Negromaro. […]

  14. […] for cocktails other than a Negroni to make with it. We stumbled upon this great invention by Stirred, Not Shaken, the […]

  15. do you have a Spritz recipe with the Gran Classico?

  16. Jonathan Kiviniemi Says:

    Everyone wants to hate on Campari because they switched to artificial coloring, even though it had no effect on the flavor. That’s what this seems to be to me.

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