How to Make a Variation on the Gin Cocktail – Robb Report

Many of us, and I enthusiastically count myself among them, believe that the Negroni is a perfect cocktail. Invented in 1919 from equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and gin, the Negroni is bitter and sweet, invigorating and somehow refreshing, it is civilization’s finest mixological achievement and the apotheosis of all that is good and right in this world. The Negroni is incorrigible; when you are on the top, one step in any direction is one step down.

So what is the White Negroni doing here? The White Negroni was invented in 2001 by English bartender Wayne Collins in a seemingly desperate move. Collins had been traveling from London to Bordeaux with Nick Blacknell, the director of Plymouth Gin, for a spirits exhibition and the gentlemen were struck one evening, as cocktail people often are, by a sudden and urgent thirst for a Negroni. They went to a liquor store but couldn’t find Campari, so they settled on Suze, a French bitters – similar to Campari but with highlighter yellow instead of Campari’s candy apple red – and the light local Lillet Blanc instead of sweet vermouth. Collins stirred it up and served it with a slice of fresh grapefruit, and both gentlemen happily agreed the drink deserved a name. Collins saw the drink’s potential in a flash: “Let’s just call it a White Negroni,” he said. The Negroni was the inspiration after all, and it follows the same pattern, only with the two red ingredients replaced with white ones (yellow, really, but then as now, “yellow Negroni” feels unacceptable). The drink made its way across the English Channel to London, then across the ocean to New York, and when Audrey Saunders started serving it at her iconic SoHo bar, Pegu Club, it quickly spread around the world.

The White Negroni is a wonderful little drink. At its best, it’s both less sweet and less bitter than its famous big brother, with more focus on spicy delicacy than punchy depth, and Collins and Blacknell agreed it deserved a name. Her choice, however, is a double-edged sword: would it have been the world-famous neo-classic if it was called “Bordeaux Surprise”? Certainly not. But on the other hand, the White Negroni designation invites comparisons to what many of us consider the best cocktail in the world. It’s like making a gangster film about rise and fall and call it Goodfellas II Why would you do that to yourself?

At the same time, not being a legendary classic has its advantages. The lack of canon reverence for the White Negroni gives us the freedom to play around with it as we see fit. Over the past 20 years, bartenders have changed specs and used different ingredients, adding things like chamomile bitters or champagne vinegar, and with the hundreds of recipes out there, finding two that completely match one another is a real challenge. I certainly have my favorite (below), but the template is versatile enough to allow for experimentation. Also, it’s boring to just do one thing at a time, no matter how perfect that thing may be.

White Negroni

  • 1.5 oz. Plymouth gin
  • 0.75 oz. Cocchi Americano
  • 0.75 oz. suze

Add all ingredients to a Rocks glass with a large piece of ice and stir for 10 to 15 seconds. Garnish with a grapefruit zest. Enjoy.


Plymouth Gin with a glass

Shannon Sturgis

Measurements: Collins originally made equal parts like you would on a classic Negroni. Not this Not Work, but it’s a level of sweetness we find unacceptable in cocktails in general (i.e. anything but a classic Negroni). Personally, I prefer to reduce the levels of vermouth and liqueur, not necessarily to let the gin speak louder, but to keep the sweetness in check.

Gin: Honestly, a lot of gins work here, but my favorite version sticks to the Collins original. Plymouth has a fuller body which provides the canvas for the other flavors to shine in this build. Beefeater was also great, but its thinner texture and higher proof make it a bit too hot at the above ratios. If I were making Beefeater I would increase Cocchi Americano and Suze to 1 ounce each.

American Cocchi: While the original used French Lillet Blanc, I’m pretty strongly convinced that Cocchi Americano is the best choice. Dolin Blanc is good but no better and my usual sleeper favorite Yzaguirre Blanco was the same. I love Lillet and prefer it in drinks like Corpse Reviver #2, but this is where Cocchi takes the day – it’s fuller, with a gorgeous spiciness that fills the front palate, and it mixes like a dream with Suze. If you’re using Suze, it’s worth saving a bottle just for that purpose.

Suze: There are a lot of Suze competitors out there, and most of them are pretty good. Most recipes call Suze by name, but you’ll also find Tempus Fugit Kina l’Aero d’Or, Saler’s, Aveze, Luxardo Bitter Bianco, and others. You can do any of these jobs—the charm of the Negroni template lies in its versatility—but throughout our testing, I’ve always felt drawn to Suze. It has a sharp edged gentian bitterness with dandelion and chamomile and a slight honey sweetness and works beautifully here.

garnish: Again your choice. Almost all White Negroni recipes call for a lemon zest, which actually works well—the simple light lemon oil helps infuse the sweetness of the liqueurs. However, I personally prefer a grapefruit zest, which adds textured bitter flavors and I think makes the whole thing more interesting. That being said, I understand that I like grapefruits more than most people, so choose your own adventure.

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