The Official Cocktail of “My Favorite Mistake”: The Negroni Sbagliato

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The cocktail called the “Negroni Sbagliato” is having a moment right now, as they say, as the result of this TikTok video. I don't know the actors, or the show they're on and I don't have a TikTok account. Get off my lawn, LOL.

Now you might have heard of the Negroni, which is a classic cocktail that's become more popular in recent years. It's made from equal parts (1 oz each) of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari (a bitter liqueur).

It's a great aperitif cocktail and I enjoy one occasionally. I never feel like a second one. I enjoy it, but one is enough and then it's time to move on to dinner (which might be accompanied by wine).

You can see a Negroni pictured below, on the right. It's normally served in a rocks glass over ice or a large ice ball/cube.

From a Recipe to Standardized Work

In their previous attempts to incorporate Lean, Starbucks tried shifting from recipes (what goes into a beverage) to full standardized work (what's the best way to produce the beverage?). That was their language, as I recall from a site visit — but a cookbook recipe certainly tells you HOW to cook the food, not just listing the ingredients. But I digress.

Again, the Negroni recipe is 1:1:1: gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari.

As far as standardized work goes, the Negroni should be stirred with a bar spoon in a mixing glass filled part way with ice and then strained into the glass. There's a whole standardized work routine for how to stir a drink, by the way.

The Negroni shouldn't be shaken! Best practices say that you're only supposed to shake cocktails that have citrus, cream, or simple syrup (or a few other exceptions) — to make sure those ingredients are incorporated properly.

You should definitely shake a margarita (since it has lime and simple syrup or agave).

James Bond was a rebel (or wrong) for having his martinis “shaken, not stirred.”

Back to Negronis, in his pandemic-famous viral video, the actor Stanley Tucci got a couple of things VERY wrong when showing “how to make a perfect negroni” — he's arguably not following the accepted standardized work:

  • He said to use “a double shot” of gin — what's the measure exactly??
  • His ratio turns out to be 2:1:1 (2 parts gin), which is surprising because every Negroni recipe is 1:1:1
  • He said you could substitute vodka (you could but that's no longer a Negroni even if you add a splash of gin “for flavor”
  • He shakes it (which will unnecessarily water it down compared to stirring)
  • He adds a little “juice” from an orange (instead of garnishing with an orange peel)

He should call that libation a “Tucci” because it's a very wide variation, a new or different cocktail based on a Negroni. That's not “perfect,” that's different.


OK, Not All Variation is Bad

Because I'm more of a whiskey drinker, I do enjoy the variation of the Negroni that's called a “Boulevardier.”

This cocktail replaces gin with whiskey — bourbon or rye (I prefer the latter).

Through my own PDSA cycles, I figured out that the ratio is better (to me) for the Boulevardier when it's 2 oz whiskey and 0.75 oz each of Campari and sweet vermouth (instead of 1:1:1:). Many bartenders agree, so I appreciate that validation and if I ever order one in a bar, I have to ask “what's your recipe?” because that drink is very non-standard in practice.

You can also use dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth, but it's then called an “Old Pal.” It's again a different drink.

OK, so after ripping Tucci for his deviations (as others did) from the accepted best practices, I'll settle on “you do you” and “drink what you like, how you like it.” But if you change a cocktail too much, it deserves a different name.

“Stanley Tucci's Negroni recipe is fatally flawed and riddled with abominations.”

The Negroni Sbagliato

So what's that on the left in the photo?

It's hard to tell exactly. It could be a Negroni served “up” (no ice) in a stemmed glass (as Tucci demonstrated).

Or it could be the Negroni Sbagliato — the official cocktail of the “My Favorite Mistake” podcast because that variation was born from a mistake, as the story goes. Back to that in a minute.

Some variations of the Negroni were created intentionally, such as the Boulevardier, or the “White Negroni” (or “Negroni Bianco” might be more correct in Italian). This variation swaps out red sweet vermouth for white dry vermouth and it replaces the bright red Campari with a clear bitter liqueur (or one that's more yellow). The proportions of the drink might also be changed from the 1:1:1 ratio, depending on whose recipe you follow. Some people use mezcal instead of gin.

It's probably a mistake to call the drink a “White Negroni” since it's more yellow, but that's also true of “white” wine, so we'll let that slide.

A Mistake with a Happy Outcome

So how did the Negroni Sbagliato come to be?

For one, the Italian word sbagliato is often translated to mean “bungled” or “mistaken.”

According to this story (and other reports), a bartender was attempting or aiming to make a Negroni:

“The story goes that in 1972, bartender Mirko Stocchetto mistakenly mixed up a bottle of gin with a bottle of prosecco while making a Negroni at the historic Bar Basso in Milan. The resulting “mistake,” or “sbagliato” in Italian, became that bar's signature drink.”

Allegedly, the customer liked the “wrong” cocktail and drank it instead of sending it back. As a customer, you'd definitely notice the lack of gin (a very distinctive spirit) and you'd notice the bubbles of the prosecco.

The Negroni Sbagliato is also a nice aperitif. It's a lighter drink than a Negroni, and it also has a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) since prosecco is about 12% ABV compared to gin at 40% ABV.

My wife and I made two Negroni Sbagliatos the other day (using some leftover California sparkling wine). In doing so, we wondered how a professional bartender could possibly mistakenly grab a prosecco bottle instead of a gin bottle.

They are VERY different in their shape (a typical gin bottle on the left and prosecco next to it in the photo below… followed by Campari and a half-bottle of a good sweet vermouth).

How would you grab the wrong bottle? The prosecco probably isn't stored anywhere near the gin since the former is refrigerated or iced down — stored with wines, not spirits.

That said, I'd guess the most likely mistake is intentionally grabbing the prosecco and then pouring it into the wrong mixing vessel.

Bartenders are often making multiple drinks at the same time, so I could see where that slip-up could occur. It's human error. It's bound to happen. Thankfully, this isn't a fatal mistake, unlike so many in healthcare.

Grabbing the prosecco is a mistake that's probably not likely to happen often, but I disagree with the article that says it would “never” happen.

Back to the variations and different drinks, that same article gives a different history of these cocktails:

  1. The “Americano” is Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda water – that existed first
  2. The Negroni is a variation where a customer asked for gin in place of soda water
  3. The Negroni Sbagliato is more of a variation on the Americano (replace soda water with prosecco) than it is a variation of the Negroni

It's a fun story, though, when a “mistake” leads to a good outcome.

Foods That Began as Mistakes

Did you know that many foods that we enjoy started as a mistake? See more in this video that I created last year.

Foods featured in this video include cheese, chocolate chip cookies, fudge, popsicles, potato chips, tea, tea bags — the source being the book Mistakes That Worked.

We could add the Negroni Sbagliato to that list.

Other Happy Accidents

Most of the stories told by guests on the “My Favorite Mistake” podcast are about bad decisions that provided a great learning opportunity. Sometimes, the success that comes from a mistake is that we managed to learn from the mistake in a way that allowed us to not repeat the mistake.

Zoologist Ron Magill told such a story — where being “careless” or “cocky” with a crocodile led to his hand being badly mangled. He learned to be more careful… and he also met his wife as a result of the physical therapy:

Cheers to Ron and his wife — toasting with a Negroni Sbagliato or otherwise!

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