Having been hooked on the Negroni for quite some time, it made sense that I would be at least as enthralled by the White Negroni. It is, in a way, the French cousin of the Negroni – the base of gin is maintained, while the Campari and sweet vermouth of Italian origin are replaced by Suze and Lillet, which both are French ingredients.
A White Negroni with Junipero gin
Suze is a bitter gentian aperitif that had long fallen out of favor before it was rediscovered during the recent cocktail renaissance. It is said to have been invented in Switzerland, gentian being a familiar flower in the Alps, and then brought to France where it was something that grandparents or great-grandparents would have enjoyed neat, with maybe a few ice cubes and a slice of orange, as an aperitif.
Its flavor is intensely bitter. It is less sweet than Campari, and its orange notes are very discreet. It’s part of the general “amaro” (bitter liqueur) category so that is where the substitution with Campari makes sense, even though their flavors are very different.
Lillet is a fortified and aromatized wine, like sweet vermouth. Vermouth’s main flavoring and bittering agent is wormwood, which it is named after. Lillet is a quinquina whose flavor is dominated by quinine in the form of chinchona bark. There has been much debate about the historical content of quinine in Lillet, but that is another story… The White Negroni was conceived with modern Lillet, so that issue is moot.
I found the White Negroni in print in 2011 when the PDT Cocktail Book was published, although I had been aware of it for quite some time already. For a while I was convinced that it was the creation of Audrey Saunders because it was associated with Pegu Club, her bar. But she actually was kind enough to point me to the actual creator, Wayne Collins, during a quick twitter exchange.
Unlike the traditional Negroni which is typically build with equal parts, the White Negroni in its original recipe gives more weight to the gin with a 2:1:0.75 ratio of gin, Lillet Blanc to Suze. Plymouth is specified which is a relatively mild gin. The drink works well too with a traditional London Dry.
Taste-wise, especially with the PDT ratios, the drink is quite Martini-esque with the gin & aromatized wine combination, and its lemon twist garnish. Think of it as a very bitter Martini. It’s elegant and quite captivating. Like the Negroni, its strong bitterness makes it an ideal aperitif.
White Negroni (Wayne Collins)
2 oz gin
1 oz Lillet blanc
3/4 oz Suze
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail coupe
Lemon twist garnish
Before the PDT recipe was published, I used to make the cocktail with a 1.5 : 1 : 0.75 gin/Lillet/Suze ratio, on the rocks, with a London dry gin such as Beefeater. With these proportions, the drink is more assertively bitter. The taste of Suze fully comes out, which I actually love and crave. It tastes a bit like sucking on a tree branch or a bitter root (like licorice root but without the licorice flavor), with a subtle floral quality.
So if you like Negronis, you owe it to yourself to try a White Negroni. Like a traditional Negroni, it is mouth-watering bitter, while being lighter in feel.