The Negroni has long been Italy’s go-to aperitif, but there’s more than one way to pour it, as we discover in this week’s Cocktail of the Week. The delicate White Negroni may be lighter in colour and flavour, but it’s every bit as stimulating as its rich, ruby red alter ego. Here’s how to make it…
Also known as the Negroni Bianco, this modern classic first came to life at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, France back in 2001, where legendary British bartender Wayne Collins was preparing for Plymouth Gin’s cocktail competition. For his entry, Collins chose to give the traditional Italian cocktail a distinctly local twist, subbing Campari for Suze – an earthy, bitter French aperitif made with gentian root – and the sweet vermouth for Lillet Blanc, a wine-based aperitif from the south of France. It won.
The White Negroni made its way to New York with then-Plymouth Gin ambassador Simon Ford, who introduced the drink to Pegu Club owner Audrey Saunders. There, it became a staple on the menu and a smash hit – despite logistical hurdles. “The cocktail got its big break in the US, even though Suze was not available in that market at the time,” says Andrei Talapanescu, head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam. “The demand for Suze in the US grew so much that in 2012, Pernod Ricard began to import the liqueur.”
Collins’ recipe “is a very interesting twist,” says Talapanescu. “Every level of the drink is saturated with flavour. The gin you choose to use remains a key player in this equation and can take the final product in any direction, since Suze and Lillet Blanc are soft players compared to Campari and sweet vermouth.” When making the drink according to Collins’ recipe, Talapanescu departs from the equal part ratios of the original Negroni recipe in favour of 45ml gin, 25ml Suze, and 30ml Lillet Blanc.
Of course, you don’t have to enter a cocktail competition to have fun with the combination of gin, bitter aperitif and wine-based aperitif. Nor do you have to stick with French liqueurs. “You can play with all sorts of ingredients,” says Mike Enright, owner of The Barber Shop in Sydney, “but for a good twist on a Negroni you always need one part gin – more citrus and floral for a White Negroni – one part bitter or modifier like Suze, St. Germain, limoncello or dry sherry, and one part white vermouth; ideally a bianco style over an extra-dry vermouth.”
This week, we’ve gone for a super-fresh version of the White Negroni, made with a citrus-forward gin – think Oxley, Salcombe Start Point or TBGC Green Citrus Gin – plus Suze and Regal Rose Lively White. “With a citrus gin you get more of the fresh notes over the dry juniper of a London Dry Gin,” says Enright. “With the Suze you get the lovely balance of a white bitter with a hint of freshness. Regal Rogue Lively White is all about the citrus and floral notes. It’s a clean style of vermouth that lets the gin and Suze shine.”
As with the classic version, the White Negroni is incredibly adaptable. “You can swap the garnish from lemon to grapefruit or even frozen green grapes if you want something more neutral,” according to Enright. Alternatively, try experimenting with the core ingredients.
“It can easily be turned into a White Negroni Sbagliato,” says Talapanescu – just sub the gin for Prosecco. “Even just a base change from gin to mezcal will create a totally different drink,” he says. However you choose to change up the format, try batching the drink in advance to save time. “It’s so easy – just buy the three bottles, mix them together in advance with enough water to ensure proper dilution and place it in your fridge or freezer,” says Talapanescu. “It can even be enjoyed in a mini format at the beginning of your meal too.”
Flavour-wise, a White Negroni has all the best parts of the classic version, “but with a fresher approach for a different time of the day,” says Enright. This version is great as the first Negroni of the day, he continues, “with a more citrus-styled gin to match that of Suze, and the citrus notes in Regal Rogue Lively White.” The White Negroni is proof that rules were made to be broken. À votre santé, as the French say
Build all ingredients in a tumbler over ice and stir. Garnish with a lemon or orange twist.