Considering that the Martini – gin mixed with just the right amount of dry vermouth – is the ultimate way to enjoy the spirit's clear color and crisp, junipery flavor, it might seem counterintuitive to steer things the opposite direction, stirring it up with something red, spicy, and slightly sweet.
But this past weekend, that’s just what I did – I mixed gin with three different red apéritifs (Dubonnet Rouge, Campari, and sweet vermouth), in three classic cocktails: The Dubonnet, the Negroni, and the Gin and It.
The results were delicious.
Dubonnet Cocktail (makes one drink)
1.5 ounces gin 1.5 ounces Dubonnet Rouge (some recipes call for a dash of bitters, but I left it out) garnish with a twist of lemon
Here Dubonnet, a classic French wine-based apéritif, is mixed with an equal measure of gin and garnished with a lemon twist. The Dubonnet gives the drink a rich, spicy port wine flavor, with a hint of bitterness (Dubonnet Rouge contains quinine, the stuff that gives tonic water its zip). This cocktail is said to have been a favorite of the late Queen Mother.
A drink with a story: The Negroni is fabled to have been invented in Florence around 1919, by a count who wanted his Americano with an extra kick, prompting the bartender to add a measure of gin. The spicy, herbal, and deliciously bitter flavor of Campari really shines through in this heady cocktail.
Gin and It (makes one drink)
1.5 ounces gin 1.5 ounces sweet (aka red or Italian) vermouth (some recipes call for a dash of bitters, but I left it out) garnish with a twist of orange
The “It” in this recipe is Italian vermouth. A super-simple combination of basic bar staples - but so surprisingly good, I wondered why I'd never tried it before.
A Note on Preparation: Recipe variations abound. I’ve found each of these drinks alternately shaken, stirred, built over ice in a rocks glass, and/or with an added splash of club soda (especially in the case of the strongly bitter Negroni). But my personal preference for all three - especially in these last days of winter - is straight up in a cocktail glass.