There is a fable about the Ancient Greek painter Protegenes, who hurls his sponge at the canvas in frustration when he’s unable to get a detail in his painting just right. The sponge leaves a stain producing exactly the look Protegenes was after, and the story becomes a maxim for many artists to follow. Beautiful creations, sometimes the greatest ones, are born out of mistakes or accidents, bringing about something entirely original, almost subconsciously.
A half-century ago in Milan, precisely such a serendipitous occasion introduced the famous Milanese cocktail, the Negroni Sbagliato. Translated as the ‘wrong’ or ‘incorrect’ Negroni – that robust drink reminiscent of a dark and sultry bar – the Negroni Sbagliato is a concoction both sweeter and lighter in its flavour than its famous sibling. Having developed today into an icon in its own right, an emblem of Milan’s Bar Basso, the Negroni Sbagliato is everything you’d ask of the finest aperitif: a surprising and refreshing twist on a well-known classic, backed by an origin story that makes for perfect dinner party conversation.
Though beloved by Italians across the country, the Negroni Sbagliato is still somewhat of a well-kept secret. Meaning, with a taste of this exquisite cocktail’s history and our full Negroni Sbagliato recipe below, you can get ahead of the trend just in time for your next get together.
A History of the Negroni Sbagliato
In Florence 1919, French general Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni requested from his bartender the Americano – his favourite drink – but wanting it stronger than usual this time around, asked for the soda water to be replaced with gin. So came about the original Negroni, of which the famed American filmmaker Orson Welles would say, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
When the Negroni Sbagliato arose half a century later, it would seem almost as if by design, a new variation that is not so ‘bad for you’, taking the ideal place in the history of aperitifs among the Americano, the Count de Negroni’s initial favourite, and the Negroni, the stronger, updated version that made his name an emblem of Italy.
It was in 1967, after perfecting their trade in several of Venice’s most prestigious spots (Harry’s Bar among them), that Venetian barman Mirko Stocchetto and business partner Renato Hausamann bought the Bar Basso in Milan. At the time the Milanese were still largely stuck on the simple pleasures of wine, beer and bitters, although tastes and clientele were gradually changing. Women were experiencing newfound independence in society and finding liberation in bars, where cocktails – smoother than the standard selection – were an ideal drink of choice. To capitalise on the growing trend, Mirko served all his cocktails in extra-large, eye-catching glasses tailor-made from glaziers in Murano.
Either in 1969 or 1972 – depending who you ask – as Mirko was preparing a classic Negroni, he fatefully, and unwittingly, added prosecco to the mix instead of the typical gin. Failing to realise his mistake before serving the drink, he was pleasantly surprised when the customer was overjoyed with the concoction. The drink was a regular on the menu from then on, named aptly by Mirko the Negroni Sbagliato – the ‘wrong’ Negroni.
Credited for revolutionising the cocktail scene in Milan, Mirko went on to develop over 100 cocktails in his lifetime. Yet the Negroni Sbagliato remains his primary legacy, a legend of a virtuoso bartender and his accidental creation still enveloping the Bar Basso, one of Milan’s most historic bars, which has today grown into a bustling hub for culture and design kept alive by Maurizio, Mirko’s son.
A Deliciously Simple Negroni Sbagliato Recipe
You’ll need equal parts (3cl) Vermouth Rosso, Bitter Campari, and the crowning ingredient: prosecco (this can be any brut sparkling wine, but we vouch for prosecco to preserve the original Italian Negroni Sbagliato recipe). With a sweeter flavour, lower alcohol content, and some bubbles, the prosecco brings a whole new flavour into the mix than the traditional third ingredient of gin.
- Bitter Campari (1 oz, 3cl)
- Vermouth Rosso (1 oz, 3cl)
- Prosecco (1 oz, 3cl)
To serve, you have two options: if you like to go the more traditional route, serve it on the rocks: fill an old-fashioned glass up with ice, pour your mixture on top, and stir with a bar spoon. For a presentation that’s a touch more fancy, serve it up in a champagne flute. First, stir the Vermouth and Campari with ice separately in a mixing glass, strain the blend into your flute, then top up with the prosecco and stir once more.
Garnish with a slice or a twist of orange to give it that extra allure, and voila, your Negroni Sbagliato. A delicious, eye-catching cocktail, easy to whip up and pass among however many guests you please.