The Negroni Sbagliato: when messing up makes history

Where do good drinks come from? Like ideas more broadly, a good drink can come from anywhere. Even from a rookie mistake, as was the case with the Negroni Sbagliato.

In the late 1960s, Italian bartender Mirko Stocchetto moved to Milan and bought Bar Basso, a cocktail bar opened in the 1950s. Stocchetto had worked in the hotel bars of Venice, and got the feeling that Milan’s drinking culture was about to catch fire.

And one night — some say it was 1968, some say 1972, it really doesn’t matter — Stocchetto inadvertently created the Negroni Sbagliato.

It’s a situation familiar to any bartender worth his or her bitters: you’re busy, people want their drinks, you’re in the weeds; you’re trying to economise every little movement you make. You shave a second off here, another there, each hand performing different tasks, and you bob and weave behind the bar, bouncing off the bartender beside you. When you’re at your best, there’s no thinking, you just do — it’s all muscle memory.

That’s how I imagine the birth of Negroni Sbagliato went down. Stocchetto has an order for a Negroni, and as he’s pulling the ingredients together he instinctively reaches for the gin — he doesn’t need to look for it because the gin is always where it is. He grabs it and pours it in with the other ingredients.

Except this time — this one time — the gin is not where it ought to be. Prosecco is in its place, and it’s prosecco that Stocchetto pours into the Negroni.

Thing is, there’s an idea there. This mistaken Negroni — sbagliato means mistaken in Italian — this Sbagliato Negroni, if you will? It’s good.

The Negroni Sbagliato is essentially a Spritz style of drink. The Campari lends bitterness and grounded earthiness to the glass; the vermouth gives a little sweetness and adds complexity; and the prosecco lengthens the drink, waking it with effervescence.

But where the Negroni Sbagliato differs from many a Spritz is that the Sbagliato has gravitas. Other Spritzes lack consequence — the Aperol Spritz, for instance, is a fine drink on a hot summer afternoon but lacks the depth and interest for year round drinking. The Negroni Sbagliato stands up in the summer and in the colder months of the year. Its flavour profile — the bitterness and the herbs and botanicals — is one for the grown ups in the room.

One caveat, however: just because you’ve thrown out the gin in a Negroni for prosecco doesn’t mean that this drink doesn’t have some alcoholic heft; Campari still clocks in at 25% ABV, vermouth around 15 percent, and when spritzed with wine, this is not a low alcohol option.

If you are looking to keep the Negroni flavour, but want to dial down the alcohol, switch the prosecco out for soda water. You’ll have yourself an Americano, one of the world’s great aperitifs.

Negroni Sbagliato

Negroni Sbagliato

Ingredients

  • 30ml Campari
  • 30ml sweet vermouth
  • 30ml prosecco (or to taste)

Instructions

  1. In a good sized highball glass or similar, add the Campari and sweet vermouth.
  2. Fill the glass with ice.
  3. Add the prosecco.
  4. Garmnish with a wedge of orange.

Notes

The Negroni Sbagliato was created — inadvertently — at Bar Basso in Milan.