Would you put vodka in your Negroni?

So, this writer walks into a bar….

No, it’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s what I did Tuesday night. Not a craft cocktail bar, not a fancy hotel bar, just an ordinary neighborhood bar on my way home. And I ordered what’s become my go-to recently:  “A Negroni, please.”

“Certainly,” the bartender responded. “Would you like that with vodka or gin?”

That gave me a moment’s pause — no one has ever asked me that before!– and I stuttered out my response: “Gin, please.” As the bartender finished another order and then began mine — Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin –I thumbed out a quick post on Twitter:

The responses flew in before I’d even finished my drink. “RUN!” urged @inukena. “YES, RUN!” echoed @feeedme. Emboldened by alcohol, I finally asked the bartender:  “So…do people really order Negronis with vodka?” He nodded solemnly. “Oh, yes. It’s the vodka generation. But personally, I prefer gin.” I polished off the rest of my drink and posted again:

But clearly I had touched a nerve. The responses continued to roll in over the next 24 hours:

@inukena:  (Collective sigh of relief)

@RobertOSimonson:  He still should never ask that question. With a Martini, I’d grudgingly accept it. A Negroni? No.

@LegendofMyself:   you can choose between the Negroni which is with gin, the Negroski with dry vodka and the “wrong” Negroni with brut champagne 🙂

@orpheum:  People order Negronis with vodka? Shame on them. Shame!

@raelinn_wine:  VILE! pffff vodka in a negroni.

@nikki_d:  Vodka in a negroni? Yikes!

@SpiritManager:  But if you make it with Vodka, is it still a Negroni? Shouldn’t it have a different name?

All this anti-vodka vitriol! OK. So cranky contrarian that I am, I couldn’t help it. Last night, I returned the same bar, and asked the same bartender:  “Negroni, please. But this time….I’ll try it with vodka.”

He did a double-take, but quickly recovered, and made my drink. As he stirred, I explained my reasoning:  My preferred gin for a Negroni is Plymouth, because it’s soft and neutral, and not overly juniper-y. But isn’t that just a step removed from vodka anyway? And wouldn’t bitter Campari overwhelm the nuances in gin, anyhow?

 He nodded, clearly placating the babbling guest, and set my drink down.

So how was it? The gin-based Negroni was much, much better than the vodka version.  I can’t explain why. Frankly, it’s not logical, and the best I can offer is some lame excuse about the alchemy between the three ingredients that make up the cocktail.

But the bartender understood when he saw me push away the barely-touched drink, and repeated his line from the night before.

“Personally, I prefer gin.”

Me too, barkeep. Me too.


17 thoughts on “Would you put vodka in your Negroni?

  1. I’ve got to say, and maybe this is too anti-vodka, but I think it’s on the customer to ask for a mangled Negroni. If you want to substitute something in a classic cocktail, ask for it. I mean, how often, really, could this bartender possibly have people sending back normal Negronis, complaining that he didn’t give them the vodka option?

    Like I said on twitter, I’m with Robert Simonson. It’s okay (kind of) to ask a customer whether they want a gin or vodka Martini. But these days, there are so many ratio variations common to Martinis that it probably necessitates a whole conversation. I never order Martinis at bars (I drink plenty at home though), but if I did, I’d be asking for the Audrey Saunders-style Fitty-Fitty Martini. I’d order it as, “I’d like a Martini with equal parts gin and vermouth with orange bitters,” so as not to presume anything.

    And speaking of vodka where it don’t belong, I’ve been trying convince people who order Vodka Red Bulls to try the energy drink with gin. Seriously, if you must drink it — there’s a time and a place, right? — it actually tastes kind of good with gin.

      • I know! I swear it tastes better than vodka and Red Bull. I mean, that’s believable, right? But yeah, I want a Fitty-Fitty too. I’ve been making them with New York Distilling Company’s Dorothy Parker Gin, Dolin Blanc, and Gary Regan’s bitters. very nice.

  2. Something that confuses me is that I don’t see much reason to ask for a vodka Negroni, even if you don’t like gin.

    Plenty of people like vodka Martinis because they don’t like the taste of gin. For a Negroni, it seems to me that the flavor of gin is so pummeled by the Campari that it doesn’t really matter.

    As you found, the cocktail may be missing that “extra something” without the gin, but I’m hard pressed to believe that someone could pinpoint their distaste of gin through a Negroni.

    • I see your point — and to be perfectly candid, I ordered that vodka Negroni wth the assumption that the Campari would overwhelm and it would all taste the same. I was primed to write a blog post on “you’re all gin snobs.” But without the gin, the Negroni tasted flat — so that “gin snob” premise went right out the window!

  3. I know this is neither here nor there, but I have been known to order a gin-heavy Negroni. Sometimes I find that the equal parts can end up a little cloying or heavy.

  4. 40 mls old tom , 25 antica formula, 30 campari, stair on big fat ice… thats a negroni,,, the vodka generation can go and have long islands ice teas or cosmopolitans for those who like tv,,,

  5. well to be hones i enjoy a good ”Rosita”, 30mls Gran Centenario reposado (highlands tequila) 30 pum e mess, 30 campari… but is not a negroni.. is a Rosita,,,,

  6. With vodka it’s not a Negroni but a Negrosky, the third option is” Negroni sbagliato” with prosecco (Hell not champagne please) or just martini rosso and bitter campari with soda is an “Americano”, the original one, then the count Camillo Negroni from Florence in the 20s added gyn and it became the first negroni, in Italy you can find an old version, the “Milano-Torino” still made with bitter campari (from Milano) but with a different kind of red vermouth from Torino called “punt e mes”. Please for your soul don’t drink negroni made with different kind of vermouth or fake campari! cheers 🙂

  7. Late to the party. I compromised only because I was fresh out of Gin. So I subbed Vodka and tweaked it with a dash of Absinthe. I think I’ll call it Negroni da Morire.

  8. the truth is that the bartender didnt remembered if the negroni was made with vodka or gin and asked first to make sure to do it well, i bet he forgot the orange peel and insted putted the orange slice

  9. Pingback: Episode #077 - Negroni Cocktail Week and the Many Variations

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