Sbagliato drinks at home. Credit: Kevin Carlow

I’ve had some embarrassing moments during my years of bartending, but this is a family paper, so I won’t go into details. Well, I’ll talk about one: I recently had to tell my Negroni-craving guests that I was out of Campari, and let me tell ya—that’s right up there with the rest.

What kind of self-respecting craft-bar manager runs out of “bartender blood”? In my defense, I had no idea that this silly drink, the Sbagliato, was all the rage. Someone tell me these things next time! I’m not terribly up on social media; I’m too old for TikTok.

Some of you may be blaming Gen Z if you couldn’t get a Negroni from me recently; others simply might be wondering just what this cocktail is. Don’t worry—I’m going to cover that and rehash some other favorite “Negroni clones” as well.

First, let’s get this out of the way: Don’t pronounce the “g” in Sbagliato. It’s something like “spahl-yah-toh” … that’s close enough, as I’m only part Italian. Just like the origin story of the Negroni, it takes place in Milan. Also like the story of the Negroni, it’s total BS. Here it goes, anyway.

This is according to Difford’s Guide: Sometime in the 1980s, the owner of Bar Basso, Mirko Stocchetto, was mixing a Negroni. Someone had placed the spumante where the bottle of gin was supposed to be, and voila, the Sbagliato (or “mistake, incorrect”) Negroni was born.

That’s cute. Anyone who believes an experienced bartender would mistake a bottle of sparkling wine for a bottle of gin probably thinks an experienced carpenter would mistake a hammer for a screwdriver. It’s absolutely ludicrous, and if you don’t believe me, go to the liquor store and try it. They’re not even similar!

Anyway, the “mistake” caught on (in some circles), and now it’s gone viral. For the record, I do believe this drink was made by mistake, but from my experience, I’d guess it was an untrained bartender who forgot or never knew how to make a Negroni who was responsible. I’m imagining Mirko walking in and catching the kid making them; right before a classic “restaurant owner meltdown” (I’ve witnessed a few), he actually tried the drink. He thought it wasn’t so bad, fired the kid on the spot, and took credit.

There, fellow cocktail nerds: I have solved the mystery, and this is the actual story behind the drink. At least in my mind.

This drink could have fit right in with my recent column on low ABV cocktails; I did actually consider adding it. Maybe I am on trend after all. Either way, it has a little more punch than an Americano, but less than a Negroni, so it’s perfect for afternoon cocktail hours and preprandial conversation alike. Think of it as the Aperol Spritz’s big sister; if the spritz is a college cheerleader, the Sbagliato runs her own business. In a funny way, they both take after their grandmother: The Americano, (Campari, Italian vermouth and soda water) begot the Negroni when someone (probably not a noble) replaced the soda water with gin. It only makes sense that, at some point, someone would have put bubbles back into the equation; it was just a matter of time.

So, without any further ado, here is the traditional Negroni Sbagliato recipe:

  • 1 ounce of Campari
  • 1 ounce of Italian vermouth (I like the kind from Torino)
  • 2 ounces of prosecco or spumante

Build over one large cube of ice, or several cubes, if you don’t have one large cube. Garnish with a twist or wheel of orange.

Is the Sbagliato too lightweight to be your go-to “cool cocktail”? No worries; there is also the Negroni Spumante, with the recipe also from Difford’s Guide:

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • 1 ounce of Campari
  • 1 ounce of sweet vermouth

Build over ice; top with spumante or any dry sparkling white wine. Stir lightly; garnish with an orange peel.

I’m down the Negroni rabbit hole now, and it never ends. You can make a Negroni variation with vodka; you can make one with orange vodka (for better results); you can top either of those with sparkling wine to make a variation of the Negroni Spumante. See what is happening here? TikTok fame is just around the corner; experiment!

How about something a little more traditional, but in the same vein? The Boulevardier might be just what you’re looking for. I’ve covered it before, but here is the recipe without all of the jibber-jabber. This is how most bartenders make it these days, but the original recipe from Harry MacElhone has equal parts, just like a proper Negroni.

  • 1 1/2 ounces of rye whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce of Campari
  • 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth

Stir; serve up, and garnish with an orange zest.

OK, you might have had a Boulevardier, but chances are you’ve never had an Old Pal. Also by MacElhone, it’s basically a Boulevardier with dry vermouth. Of course, I go back to equal parts for this one, and I use mezcal instead of whiskey … so it’s a mezcal Negroni with dry vermouth instead of sweet. Honestly, at a certain point, all of the variations collide. Call it whatever you’d like; some people call the mezcal version an Amigo Viejo.

  • 1 ounce of rye whiskey (or mezcal)
  • 1 ounce of Campari
  • 1 ounce of dry vermouth

Build over ice; stir; garnish a with lemon peel.

None of these cocktails is as good as the Negroni, which was invented live on TikTok by Stanley Tucci in 2020. (I’m kidding, of course, but I’m not sure some people would know that.) Variety is the spice of life, as they say, so try some of these cocktails; you won’t be disappointed. You can always come back to the original Negroni:

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • 1 ounce of Campari
  • 1 ounce of sweet vermouth

Stir over ice; garnish with an orange peel.

Now I need to go log on to see what liquor I need to stock up on next …

Kevin Carlow

Kevin Carlow has been a bartender and writer for most of his adult life. Having worked in nearly every position in the service industry at some point, he is currently a cocktail consultant and the co-owner...

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