Weekly Cocktail #41: The White Negroni

The White Negroni (the slightly bitter version)

The White Negroni (the slightly bitter version)

We have a confession to make. We don’t like the “classic” Negroni cocktail very much. We try to like it, but there is just too much Campari along with the gin and sweet vermouth. Too bitter and too “ashy” for our tastes. And no matter how many times we try it, or how many mixologists, magazines and websites tell us it’s the “cool” drink, it just doesn’t take. But happily, we are parents, and very used to being “uncool”. Our lives will continue on without ever gaining a taste for the Negroni.

white2white7But we do understand the need for cocktails that include, and even highlight, bitter elements. Right now in cocktail circles (particularly in NYC and San Francisco) bitter flavors are “in”, and it is a somewhat unexplored area of cocktails. But being old enough to see the first microbrewery expansion, and the California wine craze, we can tell you both went into a similar “phase”. Brewers over-hopped everything (sound familiar?) and high-end wine makers and sommeliers started to highlight “green” flavors and acidity (and tried to call it “balance”). We suspect there is a little of “inside-baseball”, “too cool for school-ness” in these trends, and they don’t last (no, they really don’t). But we always keep an open mind and like to try new things. Enter the White Negroni.

white3

The bitter version with Suze.

The bitter version with Suze.

The White Negroni combines gin, vermouth and/or bitter fortified wine or liqueur. The idea is to have the similar bittersweet flavors of the classic Negroni, but with lighter flavors and colors. And as we like all sorts of gin, dry vermouth and fortified wines, we figured we would have the ingredients to experiment. And we did need a range of ingredients, as there is no single recipe to work from. From the PDT Cocktail Book to Serious Eats to Cocktail Virgin Slut, the recipes abound.

whiteBut it turns out there are two basic variants of the White Negroni, the slightly bitter and the very bitter. The main difference is in the strength of one flavor, gentian. Gentian is a very bitter root flavor found in many apéritifs and fortified wines. Some, like Cocchi Americano have just a hint of gentian, some like Suze or Salers are “gentian-bombs“. If you like the classic Negroni, make your White Negroni with Suze or Salers. If you are just experimenting with bitter-flavored cocktails, use the Cocchi Americano (good stuff for many cocktails, btw) in your White Negroni.

white4We include a version of both recipes, but there is room to experiment. Usually the very bitter recipe includes dry gin, Suze and Lillet blanc to add some sweetness and counteract the very bitter Suze. The slightly bitter recipe includes dry gin, dry vermouth and Cocchi Americano. The very bitter White Negroni with the Suze has beautiful yellow color and strong flavor, and it is just as bitter as a classic Negroni (not as “ashy’). Not really for us, but we have friends who do like it. If you like bitter drinks, you will be very happy. Have at it.

white9We will enjoy the slightly bitter version, it has herbal flavor from the gin and dry vermouth and both sweet and bitter notes from the Cocchi Americano. This version of the White Negroni bridges the gap between apéritif and cocktail and shows how bitter and sweet notes can play well together. Worth a try.

The White Negroni #1 (Slightly Bitter)

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. dry gin
  • 1 oz. Cocchi Americano
  • 1/2 oz. dry vermouth
  • Lemon peel, for garnish

Assemble:

  1. Combine all liquid ingredients in a cocktail glass with ice. Stir until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Twist the lemon peel over the drink, add it to the drink and serve.

The White Negroni #2 (VeryBitter)

Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/2 oz. dry gin
  • 1 oz. Lillet Blanc
  • 3/4 oz. Suze (or Salers)
  • Lemon peel, for garnish

Assemble:

  1. Combine all liquid ingredients in a cocktail glass with ice. Stir until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Twist the lemon peel over the drink, add it to the drink and serve.
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37 thoughts on “Weekly Cocktail #41: The White Negroni

  1. Um… THANK YOU for pointing out that these drink trends don’t last. The bitters kick is killing me. I’m guilty of trying to use them to make drinks now as well because many of my friends demand bitters in their drinks. That wasn’t the case a year ago! Great pics of the cocktail though. It makes it looks really refreshing!

  2. My love of Salers moves beyond the bitterness (though I am partial to it). I love its complex grassy/chocolate/lemon zest notes that seem so contradictory, yet meld so well. I had my first one of these about two months back (using Suze) and I was lovestruck. Great post!

  3. looks interesting–I, too, really wanted to like the negroni and was disappointed when I finally had one. Seemed and “emperor’s new clothes” sort of thing–what was so great about it? Will try your version (once I hunt down a few new spirits:-))

    • I think that is a good description. Sometimes folks get very passionate about the things they “learn to like”, but some of us just don’t like them.

      That said, Campari is often very good as an accent in many drinks, we just can’t take it as a main element. Too strongly flavored.

  4. That’s too bad you don’t like Negroni’s but it’s understandable since we know that Campari is an “acquired taste.” Some bartenders like to use double the amount of Gin and make a 2:1:1 ratio rather than the 1:1:1 (Gin: Campari: Vermouth) . Of course using Antica Carpano as the vermouth is our preferred way of having the classic which also helps.

  5. Flashing drinks again – and gin based, it’s going in the right direction. Cocchi Americano and Lillet Blanc – totally new acquaintances to me, got help from google. Wish you both a great weekend.

    • Thanks- and have a great weekend.

      Cocchi or Lillet are both fortified wines with some sweetness and bitter herbal and quinine notes (they were used to ward off malaria). They are good aperitifs on their own (served on the rocks) If you like bittersweet flavors like tonic water, worth a try.

      • I wouldn’t mind being next door neighbor to you and your bar cabinet. The alcohol I have met through you – is unbelievable. Cocktails and all this wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables. Like the garden of Eden.

      • We do feel that way about the bar, it is a treat and escape. We love to cook, but the cocktails let you create and experiment in minutes, rather than hours (although we love those hours when cooking).

        And you would always be welcome for cocktails!

      • Thanks for the invite … If I turn up will it be for both cocktail and cooking – but it will not happen this weekend. *smile

  6. How do you do this? Good writing and tantalizingly beautiful photos have me thirsting for something I’ve never seen nor heard of. But I think you have me intrigued enough to try! (Slightly bitter would be my preference so this weekend, we’ll likely do some shopping!)

    • Thanks, and glad you liked it!

      Both Cocchi and Lillet are tasty alternatives / compliments to vermouth, with more sweet and bitter notes. They are worth trying and you can find them in good liquor stores (Lillet is more common).

      A quick guide on the flavor, if you like gin and tonics, you will most likely enjoy Lillet or Cocchi, both have quinine notes.

  7. I believe the PDT would be the best recipe; although they do tweak the classics to their tastes. No clue how it was truly invented in 2002. The one in our blog was how a bartender made it for me. I found that Suze/Salers worked better with brown spirits like the Brown Bomber in PDT’s book (Tennessee whiskey for the gin). The Harry Palmer improved that by using rye and swapping the Lillet for sweet vermouth.

  8. I tended bar in Providence, Rhode Island back in the day when half the people in the place ordered Fuzzy Navels, B52s, White Russians and Bloody Brains (I can “float” layers of Bailey’s and Grand Marnier like nobody’s business!). But I had one customer, an Italian, (a real Italy-Italian, not the local mafia dudes who frequented my bar) who always ordered Negroni. I thought this had to be the most sophisticated drink known to man; it didn’t have Sambuca or Kahlua in it and its name referred to nothing cute or graphic.

    I’m a true sucker for the gorgeous Negroni, bitter or not. It hold a special place in my heart.

    • Ahh…the Bloody Brains, sad to say it, but I remember that one. Hmmm..

      Everything about the Negroni seems cool…except the taste (at least for us). The White version is pretty good thoug…so we are halfway there

  9. I love your blog. I dream of tasting all these concoctions. Do not have a stocked bar, yet last night I created this: 1 1/2 jiggers of good gin, 1 jigger of dark maple syrup, the juice of one entire lime, splash of water, shake over ice, serve. Now tell me what you think of the amateur’s try…I was drunk after the first sip! ;-)

    • Sounds great…if you have gin, sweet and citrus you are already in a good place!

      (Maybe add a slash of orange to the lemon and maple, those 3 work very well together…)

  10. I DO like Negronis (quite a lot, really), but I’ve never had the pleasure of a ‘white Negroni’ – no Suze, Cocchi ro other such ingredients. I didn’t like my first Negorni, but the second was great. So not really all that aquired. The orange garnish is very important, I think.

    I also liek the bitter ‘fad’ and I don’t think it is a fad. I love bitter flavours in my drinks, and adore any amari I can get my hands on (precious few).

    What I do object to is the messing around of ratios ina clasic Negroni. PDT, for one ups the gin, to make a ‘gin drink’. Unfortunately upping the gin-ness decreases the Negroni-ness. The drink is ruined of you let one of the flavours dominate, in my opinion. I stick to a 1:1:1 ratio unless different ingredients are in play.

    Anyway, I think a very good beginner Negroni is 1:1:1 gin, Aperol and Lillet with a light and citrusy gin, such as Plymouth (not too many botanicals) and an optional couple of drops of orange bitters.

    • Hi,

      A lot of different takes on the issue of bitter ingredients, we may explore the topic and ingredients more in the next few months. Whether it is a “fad” of not, bitter flavors in cocktails certainly aren’t going anywhere.

      We also like bitter flavors (particularly in our cooking) to add balance (of course, “balance” means different things to different people). We love Aperol, but Campari is too much for us (in large doses) but we have friends who just love it. We enjoy most Amari, and love to mix with them.

      We are similar with the “white” bitter ingredients. We drink Lillet and Cocchi happily as aperitifs, but Suze, Bonal and Salers we can only enjoy as accents.

      We will try your “entry” version of the Negroni…it sounds great.

      • See, I like Campari, and though Aperol has a great lighter taste, I find it a little too sweet (OK, a little too expensive, and I get very cheap Campari). Right now, I have a slightly upset stomach, and no ice in the freezer, so I’m just sipping on a glass of straight Campari (it’s a digestive, right?)
        - not the best drink ever, but … :)

  11. Pingback: Weekly Cocktail #42: The Kentucky Royale « Putney Farm

    • Hope you enjoy it. Curious to see what you think of Suze or Salers…tough ingredient, but there is “something” there, we just aren’t sure what it is yet.

  12. Well.. I used to drink pitchers of negroni (with friends of course) before it became a cool drink… And i must say that it’s really hard to find an establishment (here in italy) where you can drink a quality one.. This is one classic that has been tampered with a bit too much in my opinion, but it is intended to be a refreshing, slightly bitter predinner, to grt your stomach ready for those late night massive dinner parties we have over here…that said.. This drink sounds really interesting.. Number 2 especially.. I’m giving it a try and see how it fares as a predinnrr.. Great work as always!

    • Thanks. Curious to see how you like it. We are trying to work with Suze and Salers and aren’t quite there yet…

      We keep revisiting the Negroni and variants….we like the idea of a strong, slightly bitter sip before a meal.

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