The classic Negroni is one of the most endlessly riffable cocktails in existence. Its traditional equal-parts formula of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth allows for infinite variations: slightly adjusting the proportions, swapping base spirits or bitter liqueurs, using various amari in place of the sweet vermouth, adding a touch of this or that to accent the primary flavors, and so many more.
One twist that takes the cocktail to an entirely different plane is swapping out the usual lean and botanical gin in favor of a notoriously flavorful and funky overproof Jamaican rum, which is what Joaquín Simó, bartender and partner in New York City bar Pouring Ribbons, did when he first made the drink in 2010.
“I can’t explain what possessed me, but within five minutes of importer Eric Seed handing me a bottle of Smith & Cross for the very first time, I had created this drink,” says Simó. “It's certainly not the most imaginative thing I've ever done—I simply ‘Mr. Potato Headed’ rum for gin in a classic Negroni spec—but it still strikes me as strange that the first thought I had when smelling and tasting a huge, funky, estery, hogo-reeking, grilled banana bread, smoking allspice-branches-laden brute of an overproof Jamaican rum was wondering how it would work in a stirred aperitivo.”
Most Negronis and their variations allow for personal preference when it comes to choosing a sweet vermouth, the flavors of which can vary widely, but there’s a clear best option for this drink: Carpano Antica.
“I usually steer clear of Antica in Negronis, as it tends to be a bit of a bully, especially in equal proportions,” says Simó. “But Smith & Cross is no shrinking violet, so it stands up to the bombastic chocolate and bitter orange notes in the vermouth while drying out the Campari's richness and tempering its bitterness.”
The resulting drink features enormously powerful flavors that all work in harmony to temper and complement each other. Not bad for a simple three-ingredient cocktail. “Further evidence that less can sometimes be quite a bit more," says Simó.
1 ounce Smith & Cross Jamaican rum
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
Garnish: orange peel
Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube.
Garnish with a long, trimmed strip of orange peel.