White Negroni, a Gin Cocktail With a Twist
Are there any improvements that can be made to perfection?
The Negroni is a perfect cocktail for many of us, including me enthusiastically. It is the apotheosis of all that is good and right in this world; the Negroni was invented in 1919 with equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin. It is bitter and sweet, bracing and refreshing, and civilization's best mixology achievement. Whenever you stand on the summit, a step in any direction is a step down; the Negroni can't be improved.
What does the White Negroni have to do with this?
An English bartender named Wayne Collins invented the White Negroni in 2001 as a sign of his desperation. As cocktail people often do, Collins and Plymouth Gin director Nick Blacknell were struck by a sudden and urgent craving for a Negroni one evening as they traveled from London to Bordeaux for a spirits exposition.
A liquor store seemed to have no Campari, so they chose Suze, a French bitter liqueur similar to Campari, but lighter in color than Campari's candy apple red, and Lillet Blanc, instead of sweet vermouth. Both gentlemen, pleased with the drink, agreed that it deserved a name after Collins stirred it up and served it with a slice of grapefruit.
There is no denying that the Negroni inspired this drink, and it follows the same template, only with two red ingredients replacing two white ones. Once Audrey Saunders started serving the drink at her legendary SoHo bar Pegu Club, it quickly spread across the globe as it moved across the channel to London, then across the ocean to New York.
Despite its famous big brother's sweetness and bitterness, the White Negroni is a great little drink, with a focus on spicy delicacy rather than punchy depth, and Collins and Blacknell were correct to name it that way. It is, however, a double-edged sword: If it had been known by the name “Bordeaux Surprise,” it would not have become the world-famous neo-classic it is today.
The term White Negroni, however, invites comparisons to what many consider the best cocktail in the world. It's like calling a rise-and-fall gangster film Goodfellas II. What kind of idiot would do that?
Although the White Negroni lacks canonical reverence, it gives us the freedom to tweak it as we please. There have been hundreds of recipes out there over the past 20 years, and of the hundreds that exist, it is actually hard to find two that completely agree with each other because of the changes in specs and ingredients, as well as additions like champagne vinegar and chamomile bitters. There is no doubt a favorite for me, but I appreciate that the template is versatile enough to allow me to experiment. Besides, it's boring to only create one thing at a time.
- 1.5 oz. Plymouth Gin
- 0.75 oz. Cocchi Americano
- 0.75 oz. Suze
Garnish with a grapefruit peel and serve in a rocks glass over ice with all ingredients.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
A classic Negroni was originally made with equal parts, but this didn't work, because it was too sweet, which we generally don't like in cocktails, that is, anything other than a classic Negroni. Rather than letting the gin speak more loudly, I prefer to keep the sweetness in check by reducing the vermouth and liqueur measurements.
My favorite version is Collins' Plymouth, which has a fuller body and provides the canvas for the other flavors to shine. There are plenty of gins that work here, but my favorite is Collins' original. I also enjoyed Beefeater, but I would increase the Cocchi Americano to 1oz and Suze to 1oz if I were going for Beefeater, as it has a thinner texture and higher proof.
It used Lillet Blanc in the original, but I think Cocchi Americano is a better choice. Dolin Blanc is okay, but not better, and my usual sleeper favorite Yzaguirre Blanco was not that great either. In drinks like the Corpse Reviver #2, Lillet is the preferred ingredient, but here, Cocchi takes the lead. It's fuller, with a lovely spice that fleshes out the front palate, and it mixes well with Suze. This is a great reason to pick up a bottle of Suze if you currently use it.
Tempus Fugit Kina l'Aero d'Or, Saler's, Aveze, Luxardo Bitter Bianco, and others are some of the competitors for Suze. Most recipes call for Suze, but there are also Tempus Fugit Kina l'Aero d'Or, Saler's, Aveze, and more. Although you can make any of these work, I found myself gravitating to Suze again and again in all our tests. It also has a slight honeyed sweetness and a sharp-edged gentian bitterness.
In almost all recipes for White Negronis, lemon peel is used as a garnish, which works well. Lemon oil cuts through the sweetness of the liqueurs and adds some brightness. My personal preference, however, is a grapefruit peel, which adds textured bitter aromatics and I think it's more interesting. However, I have come to realize that I like grapefruits more than most people, so go with your own taste.