Negroni Sbagliato: Vermouth's happy mistake

The Negroni Sbagliato has become the darling of millennials thanks to a TikTok clip. Shay Waterworth says it’s opening new doors for vermouth producers.

The Negroni has been vermouth’s best friend for the past decade or so as the popularity of the cocktail helped the category undergo a renaissance. Not so long ago, the selection of vermouths behind bars was limited, whereas today there are not only hundreds of premium producers, but new styles too. 

According to a report by Market Data Forecast, the global vermouth market was worth US$11.9bn in 2021, and is predicted to reach a valuation of $16.8bn by 2027. This projection is, on the one hand, staggering, yet simultaneously expected. Cocktail culture is spreading across the world, beyond the usual suspects of Europe and the US, and still the most on-trend cocktail remains the Negroni. In fact, in the 2022 Drinks International Annual Brands Report, the Negroni was crowned the bestselling classic cocktail in the industry’s top bars, finally eclipsing the Old Fashioned after eight years on the bounce. And while it may feel like the Campari classic has been ‘trendy’ for a long time already, it’s likely to be the popular drink of choice for the rest of the decade. 

As volumes have increased in line with the rise of the Negroni, there have been several efforts to innovate vermouth. There are the more traditional producers such as Perlino, with its Vermouth Di Torino Riserva Del Palio – using 20 herbs and spices macerated individually before pressing – right through to the natural or organic styles which have started emerging. Luxardo even launched a ‘vermouth’ made from marasca cherries. And, while there are lots of interpretations of production, it’s unlikely any producer would have predicted a very recent trend which could change the direction for vermouth in the on-trade – the rise of the Negroni Sbagliato. As with lots of modern trends, the Sbagliato has blown up on TikTok.

The TikTok responsible is an interview with House of the Dragon star Emma D’Arcy. The non-binary actor was asked about their favourite cocktail in an HBO interview to promote the series, which is a prequel to the modern classic Game of Thrones. After D’Arcy’s response the video spiked on October 5, with more than 30 million views at the time of writing, and fuelling Google algorithms. The result has seen consumers asking bartenders for what they think is a new invention, when actually it’s been around a lot longer than the Millennials ordering it.

According to Difford’s Guide, the cocktail was invented in Milan in the 1980s: “Pronounced ‘spal-yacht-oh’ which in Italian means ‘mistake’, this drink was created in the late 1980s by Mirko Stocchetti at his Bar Basso in Milan – when making a Negroni he mistakenly reached for a bottle of spumante instead of gin. They are still served at Basso today in enormous chalice-like glasses with a single, giant, rectangular ice cube.”

In a report in The Guardian, drinks writer Henry Jeffreys says: “Negronis are so drinkable, but so strong, which is why they’re so dangerous. The Sbagliato is a really good alternative if you want a Negroni but you also want to get something done afterwards.”

On average a Sbagliato is about half the abv of a standard Negroni – around 15% – which is bang on the money when it comes to current trends. Both prosecco and lower-abv alternatives continue to thrive, which is even better news for producers as the vermouth content remains the same – it’s gin distillers that lose out from the new trend.

Drink being poured over ice


There are several bartender-made vermouths already on the market, such as Volume Primo and Vermouth del Professore, and they will be primed to capitalise on the Sbagliato trend. But to stay connected, some of the bigger producers have brought bartenders onboard to help develop recipes so they can offer something which is versatile in modern cocktails and trends.

This time last year, Zamora Company launched Giardino, a pair of super-premium vermouths designed with the professional bartending community in mind. The duo (Giardino Tradizionale and Giardino Mediterranean Dry) were created in consultation with US-based bartenders and spirits experts Chris Patino and Stacey Swenson.

Zamora global marketing & innovation director for spirits, Julian Fernandez, says: “Our idea was always to create a product ideal for mixing in both classic and contemporary cocktails. The Giardino Tradizionale is perfect paired with fellow premium spirits for a Negroni or a Manhattan, while the Mediterranean Dry adds bold citrus notes to the classic Dry Martini.”

Patino adds: “There are a number of vermouths on the market that are fairly one dimensional, or have singular ingredients that tend to be a bit overpowering. We wanted to create something that was well balanced and would blend in seamlessly in cocktails, whether being used as a modifier or as the base of something low-abv.”

As Giardino Mediterranean Dry has already identified, the classic cocktail which continues to nobly serve the white vermouth category is the Martini, which currently sits third in the bestselling cocktails of the Annual Brands Report. Italian vermouth brand Cucielo followed the same path as Giardino and launched its Dry Vermouth di Torino to the global market this summer.

Andy Holmes, chief executive of the brand’s parent company, Artisan Spirits, says: “Not only is the Martini one of the most iconic vermouth based cocktails, it’s probably the most iconic cocktail of all time, so it was always a natural next step for us to create a dry expression designed for the serve. Cucielo Dry is a homage to aperitivo culture – from the selection of botanicals through to the label design, which is inspired by the golden hour.

Holmes adds: “It’s a really exciting time in the history of vermouth as the rise of aperitif drinks globally has opened up the category to a new generation of drinkers, who are not only enjoying vermouth in amazing cocktails but also as the hero ingredient in a Spritz or simple serve. We’re also seeing new levels of excitement in vermouth among bartenders, who are embracing the spirit’s complexity, which is often compared to that of a perfume.

“While Cucielo’s aim is to bring vermouth to modern drinkers, authenticity and originality sit at the heart of our products. Our dry expression follows the revered techniques that led to Vermouth Di Torino becoming recognised in EU law in 2017 as a DOC appellation for its quality and provenance”. 

In all honesty, it was expected that more bartender-focused vermouth brands would be coming to market. However, it will be interesting to witness not only how significant a TikTok trend is in the drinks industry, but how brands respond to the sudden explosive exposure which the Sbagliato has received. 

The majority will likely stick to promoting the standard Negroni serve, but the smart ones ought to harness the momentum behind the Sbagliato and target it as a summer serve for 2023 – a season less favourable to shorter drinks like the Negroni.