The Negroni has inspired many cocktails, but few (most famously, the whiskey-based Boulevardier) have used its equal parts model literally.

So I was intrigued when I came across the Agavoni, a tequila-based version of the drink in Robert Hess’s Essential Bartender’s Guide.

Tequila and the Negroni

The tequila-based version was formulated by Bastian Heuser in 2008, inspired by his work on a tequila-themed issue of Mixology Magazine. Hess appears to the be first person to publish it in a generally-available bartender’s manual, under the name “Agavoni.” According to Camper English, it seems also to be known in some circles as a “Tegroni.”

A cocktail as good as this needs a decent and inspiring name. My hope is that someone with more clout than I will manage to hang a proper name on this drink. Harry McElhone managed to come up with the elegant “Boulevardier” for the whiskey-based variant. The tequila version—as well as the mezcal—deserves the same serious attention.

And I will call this drink a Tequila Negroni until something less embarrassing comes along.

The Tequila Negroni (Agavoni) cocktail, photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Tequila Negroni

Here’s the recipe:

The Tequila Negroni (“Agavoni”)
(Bastian Heuser)

  • ¾ oz blanco tequila (El Tesoro Platinum, Corralejo Blanco)
  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth (M&R Rosso)
  • ¾ oz Campari
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (Bitter Truth Orange)

Stir all ingredients with ice until very cold; strain into a chilled rocks glass. Optionally, serve with ice; optionally, garnish with grapefruit twist.

The gin of the original Negroni, with its own crisp herbal character, is a perfect foil for Campari’s flavors. It turns out that white tequila does a fine job, too. The tequila replaces the juniper-forward crispness of London Dry gin with a softer agave grassiness.

Tequila Negroni (detail), photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.According to Hess, Bastian favors Tapatio Blanco tequila for this drink, and Carpano Antica vermouth. I had fine results with the more readily available El Tesoro and the slightly lighter Corralejo. I used our standard M&R Rosso vermouth, and it seems to work just fine, but I have seen many recommendations to use Carpano with Campari—the story is that the Carpano rounds off a little of Campari’s bitterness, which some find to be a welcome effect.

What about Mezcal?

That’s the thought that was nagging at me as I tested the tequila version—it seemed like this was a natural combination of flavors to match with smoke. There was nothing for it but to try a mezcal version, and it worked even better than I hoped. I’ll stick with this version from now on:

The Mezcal Negroni

  • ¾ oz Mezcal (Sombra)
  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth (Punt e Mes, M&R Rosso)
  • ¾ oz Campari
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (Bitter Truth Orange)

Stir all ingredients with ice until very cold; strain into a chilled rocks glass. Optionally, serve with ice; optionally, garnish with grapefruit twist.

I don’t have a lot of experience with mezcal; the Sombra I used here is the only one I’ve sampled. I found it very pleasant, rather Scotch-like, and a very easy sipper. It adds a slight smoky nose, of course, and it seems to have a slight viscousness that takes the edge off the Campari a bit, and makes the cocktail both richer and gentler in flavor.

Punt e Mes works very well in this mix; the flavors blend well with both the mezcal and the Campari. M&R Rosso is good; Punt e Mes is better.

The tequila version of the Negroni is pretty good, but I’m delighted with the mezcal variant. I’ve written before about the eye-opening qualities of variant cocktails, like a Sazerac made with aged Genever; the mezcal-based Negroni is in the same class as that Sazerac, a turn from tradition that presents a new and enlightening experience.