Etiquette deems that one cannot wear white after Labor Day but there is no mention of white cocktails being verboten! Let me introduce you to the Negroni Bianco or “White Negroni”, a perfect drink for the transition to Autumn.
For years, I would request a White Negroni at select New York cocktail destinations when by chance I saw a bottle of a coveted French bitter aperitif called Suze on the shelf. I would only ask if the bartenders or bar owners were friends. I held no ill will if they refused to dip into their super secret stash of Suze to accommodate me. This liqueur was not available in the United States and bartenders in the know smuggled it in the country on return trips from Europe. So, it was pretty special to have one given the limited supply of Suze.
“British Cocktail King” Wayne Collins created the White Negroni in 2002 and leveraged the Negroni lighter sister ingredients by using gin, Lillet Blanc (a French fortified wine), and Suze. Lillet took the place of sweet vermouth, while Suze replaced Campari in the classic Negroni formula. The proportions were modified from the classic equal parts recipe by increasing the gin to a full jigger. I believe this was done to counter the complexity and earthy tones of the Suze. In my adaptation, I have swapped out London Dry gin for an American Navy Strength gin, and returned the proportions to equal parts. I also use Dolin Blanc vermouth in lieu of Lillet Blanc, because Dolin Blanc at its core is a sweet vermouth. I stuck to the original lemon peel for garnish since I think Collins had it right regarding the lemon oils. I have made this drink with orange peel too; it is delicious and the orange peel is more like a traditional Negroni.
Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin (57% ABV) - As with the classic Negroni, the bianco version requires a gin with the fortitude and depth to stand up the robust flavors of the bitter and sweetness of the vermouth. One could go with a classic London Dry gin such as Beefeater, but I prefer to up the ante and the proof of this libation. So I went with Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin from the New York Distilling Company.
Distiller Allen Katz honors 19th Century American Navy legend and former Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Matthew Calbraith Perry with this classic navy strength gin. This variety of gin distilled at 57 % ABV which is the historical proof at which gunpowder might still be fired should it unfortunately be soaked by spilled spirit. Katz also tips cap to the Navy tradition by referencing the standard gin ration measurement or “tot” (roughly 1 oz) provided to British Commonwealth sailors during the 1800s.
Weighing in at 114 proof, Perry’s Tot not only stands up to the Suze’s complexity, it is also chock full of bold flavors. Besides the traditional signature botanicals such as juniper, citrus peels, and cardamom, Perry’s Tot is also infused with wild honey flower. This recipe results in a clean juniper taste with both subtle and intense flavors of citrus and spice.
Suze (20% ABV) is a French wine-based liquor whose prominent flavor is yellow gentian root. It is considered part of the “bitter” family and has been continually produced since 1889. Artist Pablo Picasso was so inspired by the spirit that he memorialized it in his 1912 "Verre et bouteille de Suze." The impressive history aside, Suze has been a precious commodity to drinks aficionados since Wayne Collins put it on the cocktail map with his White Negroni. It was not available in the United States – until now!
For Suze's U.S. launch, the manufacturers resurrected creator Fernand Moureaux’s original 1885 recipe. Much like Lillet, modern day Suze has been modified to accommodate the modern consumer tastes. So the bitter or quinine taste profile was lowered and sweetness increased. However, Pernod-Ricard (owners of Suze since 1965) are big supporters of the craft cocktail movement. They understand the demand for authenticity when it comes to flavor profiles from specific eras. The original formula and name of the newly available spirit is Suze Saveur D’Autrefois - which translates to “old flavor”.
The Suze Saveur D’Autrefois is now available in the United States and distributed by Domaine Select. It retails at about $30-35 for 1L bottle.
Dolin Blanc Vermouth (16% ABV) - Maison Dolin et Cie produces a premium brand of vermouths from the alpine Chambéry region of southeast France. Vermouth de Chambéry has also received the appellation d’origine controlée (a.o.c) certification due to the unique characteristics of the soil of the area. The Blanc is produced like un-aged sweet vermouth that is infused with 54 plants and herbs that includes rose petals but none of the ingredients that create the red color. It is a more thoughtful variation of the mass produced bianco vermouth but with the unique aromatic vegetation of Chambéry.
Domaine Select also imports Dolin vermouths, which have a very economical price point of $16-20 for a 750ml bottle.
If you do not have access to Suze Saveur D’Autrefois yet but want to enjoy a White Negroni, I recommend Grand Classico Bitter or Bittermens Amere Sauvage - Gentiane Américaine as a worthy substitutes.
Adapted from Wayne Collins White Negroni recipe
1 oz Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin
1 oz Suze Saveur D’Autrefois
1 oz Dolin Blanc vermouth
Tools: Jigger, strainer, mixing glass, Swiss peeler, coupe
Method: Combine vermouth, Suze, and gin in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe, garnish with fresh lemon peel.
Where to drink this cocktail: The Shanty (79 Richardson Street, Brooklyn) and PDT (113 St. Marks, East Village)
Where to purchase the ingredients: Astor Wine & Spirits (399 Lafayette Street, NYC)