How to Make a White Negroni
The thing about “new classics” is that they hardly receive the reverence of a real classic. The Negroni cocktail dates at least to the 1940s—but more likely the 1910s—and despite it having many variations before the recipe (equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth) was canonized, few question the simple brilliance of its ingredients and proportions.
Many decades later, in 2001, the white Negroni cocktail, which substitutes bitter gentian liqueur (Suze) for Campari and sweet white fortified wine (Lillet) for the vermouth, was invented by British bartender Wayne Collins at a cocktail competition in Bordeaux, France. While it did not become popular in the U.S. until Suze was imported stateside in 2012, it has become near ubiquitous in recent years—for good reason.
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“A white Negroni is one of my favorite calls for a stirred gin cocktail, crisp and spirit-forward, but not as potent as a martini,” says Liz Kelley, lead bartender at Cure in New Orleans. “They’re flavorful and bracing, but dryer and more subtle than a classic Negroni.”
How Bartenders Mix It Up
Like the original, the white Negroni is a fairly straightforward, equal-parts cocktail. And just as the red Negroni has spawned countless variations—such as the Boulevardier, the Old Pal and Sin Cyn—bartenders have created wide-ranging riffs on this new, colorless spin. One recent far-out version I came across, and thoroughly enjoyed, was at Tropezón in Miami Beach. The bartending staff mixed brown butter and sage-infused gin with white soy-infused Luxardo Bitter Bianco and El Bandarra white vermouth from Spain (made with Xarel-lo, white grenache and over 50 botanicals).
“There’s appeal in offering variations on the white Negroni, because the white Negroni itself is a variation,” says Eva Suter, bar manager at Austin’s L’Oca d’Oro, and soon-to-open Bambino.
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Chances are, no matter where you go, mixologists will feature their own preferred combination of gin, gentian and fortified wine in their cocktail recipe. In some cases, these creative alterations extend to swapping out the base spirits, from the Prosecco-filled Negroni Sbagliato that went viral last summer to agave-infused renditions.
“Mezcal Negronis and mezcal white Negronis get a hardy ‘heck ya’ from me,” Suter adds. “It’s fun to play with riffs here, but the family line is clear: drinks that live with a sense of history, but aren’t totally beholden to it.”
Choosing the Right Aperitif and Garnishes
Though the rules on this libation are already loose, the real fun of the white Negroni is playing with the non-gin elements. Gentian liqueurs that can substitute for Suze include Salers, Aveze and Luxardo Bitter Bianco, a product recently developed specifically for white Negronis that is a favorite of many bartenders (though its 30% ABV can overpower delicate Lillet). Those who choose to work the latter into their cocktails often substitute the Lillet for Dolin Blanc, Comoz Blanc, Carpano Bianco or Cocchi Americano Bianco.
Beyond gin and gentian preference, the choice of garnish—usually lemon, orange or grapefruit peel—can dramatically change which flavors and botanicals come through in the cocktail. For example, Cure’s current iteration features equal parts Bombay Dry, Salers and Comoz Blanc vermouth with lemon peel. This “yields a clean, elegant and approachable sipper that even a first-time white Negroni drinker will enjoy,” says Kelley.
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While the original recipe used French ingredients to match the country in which it was conceived, many bartenders look to the Negroni’s home country for inspiration. The Negroni Bianco at New York’s Trattoria One Fifth has been on the menu since day one, a mix of gin, Luxardo Bitter Bianco and Carpano Bianco. “Being an Italian restaurant, we set out to create a version of the drink that was based on Italian spirits and a nod to the classic Negroni,” says partner Sabato Sagaria.
Before embarking on your own journey of white Negroni experimentation, we suggest starting with the original recipe to get a sense of how the different elements interact with one another.
How to Make a White Negroni Cocktail
Recipe adapted by Nils Bernstein
Since you’re making this at home and not a bar, this white Negroni cocktail recipe features generous portions. Once you savor the original, play around with the ratios, and experiment with other gentian liqueurs and white fortified wines, to find your preferred “house” version.
- 1.5 ounces London Dry or Plymouth gin
- 1.5 ounces Suze
- 1.5 ounces Lillet Blanc
- Grapefruit peel, for garnish
Combine gin, Suze and Lillet Blanc in a glass with one large ice cube and stir until very cold. (If you don’t have—or like—one big cube, stir with one regular-sized cube until cold before adding more ice.) Garnish with grapefruit peel.
Published: January 18, 2024