It’s the quintessential cocktail enthusiasts’ drink. Beloved by bartenders for its simple 3-part recipe — equal pours of Gin, Campari, and Sweet Vermouth — the classic Negroni is an enigma of complexity. Bitter and boozy, smooth and sweet. Bright with citrus, yet intensely herbal. Bold and balanced, it’s the iconic apéritif that seemingly never goes out of style.
More than half of all Gin cocktails sold at Union’s high-volume bars and restaurants are Negronis, and sales are rising. The Negroni experienced steep growth in the past 12-months ending July 31, 2023 at Union venues, with sales increasing by a staggering 44 percent year-over-year (excludes RTDs).
“The Italian cocktail has been a reliable seller for many operators, though our recent data report shows renewed interest from guests this year,” says Layne Cox, Union’s chief marketing officer. “There’s no doubt that Negronis are on the upswing on-premise,” she says.
A Sharp Rise in Negroni Sales Follow Celebrity Shout-Outs
In addition, Negroni’s share of cocktails overall is up 28 percent in year-over-year dollar sales at Union venues for the 12-months ending July 31, 2023, not including RTDs. The recent resurgence was buoyed by a now-viral TikTok video in which HBO Max House of the Dragon stars Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke discuss their drink of choice: the Negroni Sbagliato.
“Sbagliato — with Prosecco in it,” says D’Arcy in the video. Soon thereafter, the Negroni Sbagliato (a riff on the classic which swaps in Prosecco for Gin) became the top trending cocktail in Google searches. According to The Spirits Business magazine, the term experienced 5,640 percent growth in queries in 2022 versus 2021. As related memes circulated, the cultural ripple effects began. Soon, Stanley Tucci, host of Searching for Italy, was sipping the Negroni Sbagliato with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show and comparing it to his own classic Negroni recipe, made famous when his wife filmed him making the drink at home at the height of the pandemic for his Instagram followers.
Negroni sales represented 1.7 percent of all cocktail sales at Union venues during the 12-month period ending July 31. While it’s a relatively small share, the cocktail’s growth is undeniable. And in some regions, that percentage of Negroni sales is much higher. Craft cocktail culture might have something to do with it: Oregon venues sell a much higher share of Negronis (4.5 percent of all cocktail sales), as do New York venues (3.7 percent).
“The Negroni was on the rise at Union even before all this celebrity love,” explains Cox. “But the October 2022 shout-out from Emma D’Arcy gave it a definite boost.”
The Negroni Sbagliato or the ‘mistaken Negroni’ has been around since 1972, says Andrea Sengara, head of marketing at Campari America. Despite its longevity, “it has been such an exciting experience to see it making waves all around the world over the last year,” Sengara adds. She notes that Campari sales are up 27 percent in on-premise year-to-date, with momentum also driven by the classic Negroni, which was named the best-selling classic cocktail in the world in 2022 by Drinks International.
While Nielsen reports that off-premise Gin sales declined by 4 percent in 2022, Union’s data for on-premise bar and restaurant sales show 6 percent share growth within the spirits category for the 12-month period ending July 2023. This result may be an indication of the spirit’s strong presence in bar culture, as the segment makes its post-pandemic comeback.
Riffs on the Negroni are Endless, and Mezcal-Based Versions are Popular
About 40 percent of Union venues offer Negronis, and more than half of those drinks are simply named “Negroni” on the menu. But a Negroni is not always just a Negroni. It’s a whole family of drinks with endless iterations that have a bittersweet, red-orange aperitif — most often Campari — and Vermouth at the heart of all its spins.
Sengara says U.S. consumers are only starting to scratch the surface of the many Campari-based cocktails that are popular in other parts of the world. “The Negroni is consistently ranked as one of the best-selling drinks in the world, but the classic recipe — Campari, Gin, and Sweet Vermouth — has been the starting point for the Negroni family tree, including variations such as the Boulevardier, which substitutes the Gin with Whiskey; the Oaxacan Negroni, which adds Mezcal to the mix along with the Gin and Campari; and creations like the Rosita, which combine Reposado Tequila, Sweet and Dry Vermouth, and Campari,” Sengara says. In short, there’s a Negroni variation for everyone.
At Union venues, about 16.5 percent of all Negronis feature Mezcal — the most sales share of any variation on the classic recipe. Other popular iterations at Union venues include the “Cherry Negroni” (3.3 percent) and “White Negroni” (2 percent). About 1.5 percent of Negronis on the menu are “Barrel-aged” or “Smoky,” and 4.3 percent are draft cocktails. The Sbagliato variation (1.3 percent) represents a small part of the Negroni universe, but the cultural attention it has brought to all variations of the cocktail is significant.
Guests can find a gamut of Negronis at Union bars and restaurants across the country, including a smoky Mezcal Negroni at The Exley in Brooklyn and an Oaxacan Negroni, made with Mezcal verde, at Old Pal in Portland, Ore. The Wooden City Tavern in Seattle serves a Cherry Negroni — a popular flavor riff with the additions of sour cherry juice and almond liqueur — on draft. A Barreled Negroni is on the menu at Il Pelicano in Fairfield, Conn., where the drink is barrel-aged in house. Meanwhile, the State Theater in Austin offers the on-trend Negroni Sbagliato.
The Perfect Apéritif: Negroni Drinkers Start Early, Drink it All Year, and Reorder Often
Bold yet refreshing, the Negroni has proven to be an all-season drink, a cocktail chameleon of sorts that’s found a following in both warm and cold seasons. The drink sells consistently year-round, though sales ultimately peak in the fall and winter holiday months.
Most Negroni drinks (70 percent) are ordered before 10 pm, reinforcing the drink’s origin as a pre-meal drink designed to whet the appetite. Specifically, dinnertime (7 to 10 pm) is the most frequent daypart when Negronis are ordered (41 percent of all sales). Seventy-one percent of Negronis are ordered by men at Union venues.
“Negroni drinkers appear to like their wine, much more so than the average cocktail drinker,” notes Cox. “Twenty-two percent of guests who ordered a Negroni in this 12-month period also ordered wine during that period, compared to the 12 percent of all cocktail drinkers who also ordered wine.”
Sengara notes that with increased interest in Italian travel and culture, there is a new awareness and excitement around the Italian ritual of the apertivo. “The desire for Italian bitters is further amplified by consumers continuing to embrace bitter taste profiles more than ever before,” she says. “Trends like cold-brew coffee, kale, and bitter dark chocolate have all changed how consumers perceive, taste, and enjoy bitter profiles.”
According to Union’s consumption data, based on actual guest purchases, Negroni drinkers will return to the Negroni 43 percent of the time on their next visit during which they order a cocktail. If they don’t order a Negroni, they most commonly will switch to an Old Fashioned, Margarita, Espresso Martini, or an Aperol Spritz (in that order of preference). Like D’Arby’s favored Negroni Sbagliato, the Aperol Spritz is made with a bittersweet, citrus, and herbal liqueur. And, “with Prosecco in it.”