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  • Brian Tasch

The Ultimate Guide to the White Negroni

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Negroni Week has come and gone. While I'm normally downright sick of Negronis this time of year, the fact that I haven't been behind a bar (or even in front of one) means I could go on and on about bitter aperitivo cocktails all day.


After writing my guide to gentian liqueurs, I figured it was time for another in-depth cocktail tasting and comparison – this time, for the White Negroni.


This is the original equal parts recipe Wayne Collins introduced at VinExpo 2001 for Plymouth Gin:


White Negroni

1 oz Plymouth Gin

1 oz Suze

1 oz Lillet Blanc


Last week, Punch dropped an article that expands on an older Difford's Guide entry, chronicling how the White Negroni became a contemporary classic cocktail Spoiler alert: three brand ambassadors and a slow burn marketing campaign across two of the world's largest gin producers, how else?


Though they took the time to dig into the history of the cocktail, their recipe strays from the original. A quick Google search will provide nearly ten different recipes on the first page. If you reference your published cocktail library, you’ll find a handful more. I’m sure every bartender worth their bitters has their own preferred spec tucked into their vest pocket.


Meanwhile, Difford's Guide provides not only the history and the original recipe but insists that “after trying various other formulas,” the original equal parts formula works best.


While I trust Difford's Guide as a resource, I felt compelled to do a little investigation of my own since their language implies they hadn't fully explored the range of gentian liqueurs or fortified wines on the market.


I agree with the equal parts formula but had to wonder if the combination of Suze and Lillet Blanc truly works the best. And why are there so many rejiggerings of this drink? Is the original even in need of improvement? Can we build a better White Negroni? Maybe even a BEST White Negroni?


But let's back up. Before we can build the best White Negroni, we must first understand the classic Negroni.


Understanding the Negroni


Negroni

1 oz London Dry Gin

1 oz Campari (or comparable red bitter aperitivo)

1 oz Sweet Red Vermouth


Despite being a New York-based American bartender, I do not subscribe to the boozier Negroni rejiggering popularized and perpetuated by my peers. On my second day of training at Pouring Ribbons Joaquín Simó, opening staff member of Death & Co. (the bar which arguably canonized the 1.5, .75, .75 spec with the publication of their book), hammered the importance of the equal parts Negroni into my head and heart.


Heart. That's the word we're looking for. To understand how to best approach any cocktail, you must have a firm understanding of its heart, its essence, its very soul! What is it supposed to taste like or evoke, and why? Once you understand how and why a cocktail is constructed and structured, you can substitute ingredients and rejigger for individual preferences.


To understand the heart of a Negroni, one must first gain an understanding of Italian aperitivo culture.


Aperitivo culture


Italian cocktails are typically low ABV and built around a foundational balance of sweet and bitter. Vermouth and other fortified wines such as Americano or Chinato, bright bitter liqueurs such as Campari and Aperol, and lighter amari such as Montenegro are consumed the same way – with ice, often soda water and/or sparkling wine, or combined along with a small amount of spirit.


These drinks are meant to be consumed leisurely over several hours along with small servings of various salty foods ranging from potato chips and pickles to crostini or mini sandwiches. Every classic Italian cocktail in existence - the Spritz, Bicicleta, Shakerato, Milano-Torino, Americano, and yes, the Negroni, are all designed to stimulate both the appetite and conversation over several hours before a proper meal and decidedly NOT to get you drunk before said meal.


The Heart of a Negroni


The Negroni evolved from the Milano-Torino, a 50/50 split of Campari and sweet red vermouth served over ice with an accompanying citrus garnish. Adding soda water turns the Milano-Torino into an Americano. Swapping that soda water for gin makes it a Negroni.


At its heart, though, the Negroni is all about the combination of bitter aperitif and sweet vermouth. To put it another way, a Negroni is not a gin cocktail.


In a gin cocktail such as the Martini, your goal should be to balance your fortified wine and bitters against the dominant gin base. On the other hand, a Negroni seamlessly integrates gin into the existing combination of fortified wine and bitters to strengthen, brighten, and provide additional botanical complexity. Add to this the fact that European gin is typically bottled at a lower ABV (37.5%) than is even legally allowed in the US and you begin to understand the balancing act that makes the heart of the Negroni.


A proper Negroni shouldn't pull you too far in any one direction. It's not so boozy as to take your breath away at first sip. The bitterness of the Campari is balanced by the sweetness of the vermouth. The gin tempers the sweetness of the vermouth as well as the Campari, which contains far more sugar than any commercial sweet vermouth. Gin also provides crucial botanicals to bridge all the flavors: juniper and citrus peel brighten the palate and balance sweetness, earthy roots such as Angelica compliment the gentian and wormwood notes of the fortified wine and bitter liqueur, and confectionary baking spices like cinnamon echo those typically found in sweet red vermouth.


As discussed in my Vegetarian Flavor Bible recommendation, a Negroni also depends on a timeless combination of flavors: grapefruit (Campari) and cinnamon (prominently featured in the majority of Italian Rosso vermouth). The Negroni is both bitter and sweet, easy to construct, and provides the perfect template for a myriad of contemporary variants, namely the White Negroni.


Same same, but different


According to the credited creator of the White Negroni, the idea was to simply make Negroni cocktails using French ingredients to represent Plymouth Gin at the VinExpo cocktail convention in Bordeaux, France. Under what lighting this drink was ever considered a “white” Negroni rather than a “radioactive yellow” Negroni I don't know. I will say that it's clear which parts of this cocktail's construction were the work of a bartender and which were the work of a global brand director.


At first glance, you could say the heart of this cocktail is simply a “French Negroni,” but I argue against this simplification. The results of this tasting should back me up. Anyone familiar with the term “Mr. Potato Head” regarding cocktails can see the 1:1 substitutions made to adapt the classic Negroni.


Each ingredient in a classic Negroni is replaced by a functionally similar ingredient.


First, the Italian Campari (a gentian-based bitter aperitivo flavored with a secret blend of 68 botanicals) is replaced by the French Suze. Suze is also a gentian liqueur, but one that primarily accentuates and celebrates the gentian rather than the botanicals used to temper it.


Second, Italian sweet red vermouth was replaced by Lillet Blanc, a quinquina. Both are fortified wines, but while vermouth is primarily bittered with wormwood, quinquina uses the quinine extracted from cinchona bark. This swap came at the suggestion of Plymouth Gin's former brand director who was a fan of Lillet. And, from a branding perspective, it didn't hurt to reach for one of the most globally recognizable and widely distributed French fortified wines.


Lillet Blanc contains around half of the sugar content of the many Italian sweet red vermouths. The quinine “bite” could be described as more of a “nibble,” especially when put up against the wormwood found in other fortified wines on the market. Italian sweet red vermouth is typically a balance of savory herbs and confectionary baking spices with dark red fruit that pulls it all together. Lillet Blanc is nearly the opposite of that - full of underripe peach, melon, lemon, and honeysuckle.


My first question was, “how much overlap should a Negroni and a White Negroni have?”


A White Negroni should be as bitter as a Negroni, but far more floral and a bit less sweet. It isn't as heavy of a drink by design. The flavors should be of the earth – primarily rooty, floral gentian. The angelica root-heavy gin should come through in the mix because it should very obviously complement and echo the botanicals in the gentian liqueur and fortified wine. Even the grapefruit garnish dictates that the White Negroni will be more bitter than the classic Negroni, which is tempered by its sweet orange aroma.


With a classic Negroni, London Dry Gin brightens the sweet and spicy botanical profile of the other ingredients. The White Negroni, on the other hand, was balanced around Plymouth gin, an earthier cousin of the London Dry style. Wayne Collins understood the heart of the Negroni and how to build a successful one to compliment the gin he was tied to – start with the bitter and work your way out.


Collins' White Negroni is devoid of the underlying confectionery baking spices imparted by both Campari and sweet red vermouth in a Negroni. Instead, he leans into the bright citrus and chamomile notes of the Suze, supporting the dusty, rooty, gentian that, in turn, provides the foundation for the Lillet Blanc and gin.


At the time of the cocktail's invention, French gentian liqueurs were not widely available outside of France. Much has changed in the subsequent nearly two decades – there is now much wider availability and variety of gentian liqueurs. Likewise with quinquina and other fortified wines such as vermouth. In fact, it sounds like there are enough variables to warrant a full-on tasting after all!


The components of our White Negronis


As with my Martini tasting, I aim to find the most harmonious pairings of fortified wine, bitter, and spirit. Whether you are a working bartender or a casual imbiber, this should help you build your White Negronis based on the products available in your area. I’ll also explore how my tasting results stack up against the most common modern recipes and rejiggerings.


Image showing a lineup of the bottles that make up the components of our tasting, from left to right: Aveze, Luxardo Bitter, Salers Aperitif, Suze, Plymouth Gin, Contratto Bianco, Cocchi Americano, Lillet Blanc, and Dolin Blanc. In front of these bottles are two rocks glasses, an orange, mixing glass, and jigger on a cutting board.

Let's break down the components of our tasting.


Plymouth Gin


As Plymouth was the original gin used in the White Negroni, kept it as my only gin for this tasting. The gin became the control I used to judge the interplay between the gentian liqueur and fortified wine.


Plymouth gin (41.2% ABV) is full-bodied, earthy, and perfectly balanced between the expected juniper, citrus, and spice notes – an earthy gin for an earthy cocktail. It's worth noting that angelica root makes up the majority of Plymouth’s botanical blend. Angelica, a member of the carrot family, has a bittersweet flavor some describe as celeriac with flavors of wormwood, anise, parsley, dill, and fennel. Juniper, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, green cardamom, and the ever-present orris root round out the rest of the botanicals.


Gentian Liqueur


The gentian liqueur is arguably the most important component of the White Negroni. A White Negroni is held up by its bitter backbone, a liqueur which highlights a singular botanical: gentian root. This ingredient is the crux of the entire drink.


This bitter aperitif can be the heaviest hitter of the three ingredients. As in a classic Negroni, pairing gentian liqueur with fortified wine provides the majority of the flavor. Most adapted recipes dial these two components back just so the gin can get a word in edgewise.


Here are some abbreviated tasting notes for the products we'll be comparing:


Aveze – Light gentian, lemon, and honeysuckle. Most similar to Suze, but a little softer and sweeter. (18% ABV)

Luxardo Bitter Bianco – Medium gentian amplified by strong wormwood, big grapefruit, cinnamon, and vanilla. Extremely punchy on account of its higher proof and additional wormwood content. This product was developed with the White Negroni in mind. (30% ABV)


Salers – Light to medium gentian, earthy, musty, and slightly acidic with some underlying warming coffee and cacao notes. Soft, but mostly pure gentian flavor. (16% ABV)


Suze – Medium-strong gentian. Bright and well-balanced between bitter and sweet with lots of lemon and pine. (20% ABV)


For a full breakdown of the category of gentian aperitifs, please see my Gentian Liqueur Tasting Guide.


Fortified Wine


Knowing there are only a handful of gentian liqueurs but dozens of potential fortified wines we could reach for made for a bit of a dilemma. The original White Negroni called for Lillet Blanc, but is there a better bottle to use? As Cocchi Americano is a common substitute for cocktails that call for Lillet Blanc, could the drink be improved with a simple swap?


What about the American propensity to substitute quinquina for blanc vermouth? I can only assume this is a result of the “French Negroni” approach since they are actually two different sub-categories of aromatized, fortified wines. Still, a survey of internet sources, cocktail books, and bartenders sees Dolin Blanc specifically called for more than anything else.


And heck, since we're throwing a French blanc vermouth into the mix, why don't we see how an Italian Bianco holds up? While I could continue down this rabbit hole for ages, I ultimately decided on four bottles to represent their respective sub-categories.


Here are some abbreviated tasting notes for the products we'll be comparing:


Lillet Blanc – Our French quinquina and the original fortified wine called for in the White Negroni. Mild quinine bitterness with white grape, lemon, melon, and lots of underripe peach. Out of the entire category of white quinquina, Lillet Blanc has the lowest ABV and the least amount of sugar which makes it effective at cutting through heavier liqueurs. (17% ABV)


Cocchi Americano Bianco – The heavier, sweeter, more bitter, confectionary Italian “equivalent” of Lillet Blanc. Gentian, orange, vanilla, cinnamon, and wormwood on the palate. Oftentimes works just as well or better than Lillet Blanc in classic recipes which call for Kina Lillet. It's worth noting that Americano is gentian-based, unlike quinquina which is made with quinine extracted from cinchona bark. (16.5% ABV)


Dolin Blanc – One of the gold standards of French blanc vermouth. Lychee, oregano, vanilla, cinnamon, and lemon with the lowest amount of sugar legally allowed in sweet vermouth by EU law. Like most French blanc vermouth, there isn't much bite from the wormwood. (16% ABV)


Contratto Bianco – One of my personal favorite Italian Bianco vermouths, Contratto balances its botanicals with a hefty amount of wormwood, gentian, and cinchona. Despite the bitter backbone, plenty of cinnamon, vanilla, thyme, wormwood, and coriander come through. Prevalent wormwood and cinnamon throughout. (18% ABV)


For a breakdown of quinquina, Americano, and sweet white vermouth, please refer to my Introduction to Vermouth post which contains the full list of fortified wine guides.


Garnish


The White Negroni calls for a grapefruit peel garnish – a beautiful, complimentary aromatic. This is a perfect garnish because it also echoes the bitter gentian, cinchona, and wormwood found in the White Negroni's ingredients, which can often be detected and misinterpreted as grapefruit.


Ice


Use a large cube for this cocktail. I'm almost always a fan of using large ice cubes to control dilution and make sure a cocktail tastes the best it can for as long as possible. While it’s uncommon for aperitivi and aperitifs to be served this way in Italy or France, it's one of the easiest ways to elevate any cocktail and truly ensure the final sip of a drink remains as enjoyable as the first.


This list creates 16 different combinations of gin, gentian liqueur, and fortified wine. Yowza.


Tasting methodology


Four rounds of tastings were conducted over the course of two weeks to determine the most and least favorable combinations of gentian liqueur and fortified wine. From there, I felt it fair to pit the original recipe against the “winner” of the tasting as well as Death & Co's overwhelmingly popular recipe and Punch's adaptation.


An image of Brian tasting a White Negroni at the kitchen counter. Also pictured are bottles of Plymouth gin, Lillet Blanc, Dolin Blanc, Cocchi Americano, Contratto Bianco, and Suze.

The results of this tasting are entirely reflective of the relatively neutral palate of two cocktail enthusiasts without bias toward any brands. We mostly aimed to see if the various pairings were harmonious or at odds and if they stayed true to the heart of the White Negroni. By using the history and original ingredients of the White Negroni as our starting point, we were able to compare and contrast 18 different versions of this bitter aperitif cocktail.


So without further ado, let the tasting begin!


White Negroni tasting results


First, we conducted two rounds of tastings to identify which combinations of gentian liqueur and fortified wine worked well and which missed the mark.


Successful White Negronis

  • Aveze & Cocchi Americano Bianco

  • Aveze & Contratto Bianco

  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Cocchi Americano Bianco

  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Contratto Bianco

  • Salers & Cocchi Americano Bianco

  • Suze & Lillet Blanc

  • Suze & Cocchi Americano Bianco

  • Suze & Contratto Bianco

Unsuccessful White Negronis


These combinations have major issues that make them less than ideal representations of this cocktail.

  • Aveze & Lillet Blanc

  • Aveze & Dolin Blanc

  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Lillet Blanc

  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Dolin Blanc

  • Salers & Lillet Blanc

  • Salers & Dolin Blanc

  • Salers & Contratto Bianco

  • Suze & Dolin Blanc


From there, I was able to determine the best fortified wine to use with each gentian liqueur and rank them from most favorable (1) to least favorable (4).



At this point, clear patterns began to emerge for both the gentian liqueurs and fortified wine selection.


Finally, we tasted the top pairings for each gentian liqueur against the original White Negroni and ranked them:


1. Aveze & Contratto Bianco

2. Suze & Cocchi Americano Bianco

3. Salers & Cocchi Americano Bianco

4. Suze & Lillet Blanc

5. Luxardo Bitter Bianco & & Cocchi Americano Bianco


And the winner is...


White Negroni (Corpse Revived 2020 Champion)

1 oz Plymouth Gin

1 oz Aveze

1 oz Contratto Bianco Vermouth


An image of a rocks glass containing Corpse Revived 2020 Champion, complete with a large ice cube and grapefruit peel garnish.

White Negroni rankings: the nitty-gritty


Here's how I would rank every combination we tried, from favorite to least favorite. The top 8 are all of the successful White Negronis and the bottom 8 are less-than-ideal representations of this cocktail.

  1. Aveze & Contratto Bianco

  2. Suze & Cocchi Americano Bianco

  3. Salers & Cocchi Americano Bianco

  4. Aveze & Cocchi Americano Bianco

  5. Suze & Contratto Bianco

  6. Suze & Lillet Blanc

  7. Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Cocchi Americano Bianco

  8. Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Contratto Bianco

  9. Salers & Contratto Bianco

  10. Suze & Dolin Blanc

  11. Aveze & Lillet Blanc

  12. Salers & Dolin Blanc

  13. Aveze & Dolin Blanc

  14. Salers & Lillet Blanc

  15. Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Lillet Blanc

  16. Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Dolin Blanc

These abbreviated tasting notes for each White Negroni include a (+) to denote positive pairings and a (-) to shows which combinations didn't quite work.

  • Aveze & Lillet Blanc – A little too much citrus astringency and touch perfumey upfront. The Aveze dominates early on, but as it dilutes the Lillet shines through. Unfortunately, the cocktail falls apart before it finds balance. (-)

  • Aveze & Dolin BlancAveze and Dolin never find the balance between the ingredients. The Aveze once again comes on too strong until the drink dilutes. At this point the Dolin's vanilla overpowers. (-)

  • Aveze & Cocchi Americano Bianco – The Cocchi holds up nicely to the Aveze and reigns it in. The Cocchi's confectionary notes make this version feel like a way better version of the Aveze/Dolin combo. Not a lot of movement on the palate as it thins out, but it does remain balanced. (+)

  • Aveze & Contratto Bianco – The Aveze and Contratto play beautifully together with the bitterness of the vermouth balancing the sweetness of the Aveze. Bitter, punchy, and every ingredient shares the load equally. The gin botanicals come through nicely and everything is in perfect balance. Brightens and gets a little fruity as it sits. (+)


  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Lillet Blanc – Very boozy, astringent, and overly aggressive. The Lillet helps cut the proof, balance the sugar, temper the bitterness, and dampened the cinnamon and vanilla from the Luxardo. Both the gin and Lillet feel like they are only there to balance the Luxardo. Mostly balances itself out over time, but the quinine of the Lillet and the wormwood of the Luxardo overshadow the gentian. (-)

  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Dolin Blanc – So much vanilla riding through and through, but strangely enough the combination is the least vanilla forward of the four Luxardo White Negronis. The Luxardo ends up being so bitter it tempers the Dolin. Too confectionary to be a good example of a White Negroni. (+)

  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Cocchi Americano Bianco – Very aggressive at first, but it mellows into a well-rounded Negroni riff. Between the gentian and wormwood, the Cocchi ends up the perfect compliment to the Luxardo Bitter Bianco. (+)

  • Luxardo Bitter Bianco & Contratto Bianco – Too bitter! There's so much wormwood the gentian is lost. Mellows out a bit, but never gets good. (-)


  • Salers & Lillet Blanc – Too astringent right off the bat. The Lillet dominates through the life of the drink. Too many bitter, acrid notes come through and the finish is needlessly bitter. The low sugar content of both the Lillet and the Salers means the harshest parts of the gin come through with nothing to temper it. Waters down too quickly. (-)

  • Salers & Dolin Blanc – Marginally better than the Salers/Lillet combo. Too much vanilla, not enough sugar or bitterness to make for a particularly interesting cocktail. Doesn't hold up well to dilution. (-)

  • Salers & Cocchi Americano Bianco – An immediate winner. Bitter and bright in all the right ways. Cinnamon and vanilla arrive late palate to ease into the bitter finish. Perfectly balanced. (+)

  • Salers & Contratto Bianco – Slightly imbalanced with not enough of the Salers coming though. Fine enough, but generally too bitter on account of the Contratto. Drinks like a less balanced version of the Salers/Cocchi combination. (-)


  • Suze & Lillet Blanc – The original White Negroni is nice and balanced. Everything plays well together from the start and is in balance. The Lillet helps cut the heaviness of the Suze. A very citrusy expression overall that gets a bit astringent as it sits. Eventually, dilution brings out a ton of peach from the Lillet which dominates the end of the cocktail's life. (+)

  • Suze & Dolin Blanc – Imbalanced. The Dolin doesn't do enough to temper the Suze and the whole thing is both sweet and astringent rather than bitter. Once again, Dolin Blanc's vanilla rides through from start to finish, stealing the show. Ends up tasting like a bitter marshmallow by the end. (-)

  • Suze & Cocchi Americano Bianco – Perfectly balanced out the gate. Confectionary notes peek out, but never overstay their welcome. From start to finish the Suze remains prominent, making for an excellent representation of the cocktail from first fresh sip to the last watered-down dregs. (+)

  • Suze & Contratto Bianco – Nearly as good as the Suze and Cocchi, but the vermouth overpowers and throws the balance off. Too much wormwood, but a treat for those who truly love a bitter Negroni. Dilutes very well and falls into perfect balance eventually. (+)

But wait, that's not all!


The final showdown: our winner, the original, and contemporary classics


Now that we've figured out which is the overall favorite, we can compare and contrast it against Wayne Collins' original recipe.


But before I put these bottles away, let's find out what rejiggering does for the White Negroni. I wanted to see how the two equal parts versions held up to the dearth of rebalanced recipes offered on the first page of Google’s search results, some of which read as very different cocktails:


Liquor.com reduces the Suze by half but supplants the loss with more gin and Lillet. Punch offers a similar adaptation, albeit with a smidge more Suze. Imbibe brings the gin up to a staggering 2 ounces. Bon Appétite walks the Suze back and amps the Lillet way up for their readers. Most strangely, Serious Eats replaces the Lillet quinquina with blanc vermouth and the gentian liqueur with Cocchi Americano, a gentian-based fortified wine.


Additionally, a quick poll saw that most working bartenders bumped the gin up to 1.5 oz and dialed everything else back to .75 oz, with either French blanc vermouth or Cocchi Americano in place of Lillet Blanc. This recipe is in line with the American trend to similarly rejigger the classic Negroni.


Despite the aperitivo heart of the White Negroni, does an extra boost of gin and/or fortified wine throw the balance of the cocktail off or elevate it?


PDT’s White Negroni


To my knowledge, the White Negroni was probably introduced to the American mainstream with the 2011 publication of the wildly successful PDT cocktail book.


White Negroni (PDT, 2011)

2 oz Gin

1 oz Lillet Blanc

.75 oz Suze

Lemon Twist Garnish, served up


Jim Meehan adapted the recipe from his time at Pegu Club, apparently the first American cocktail bar to feature the White Negroni on its menu. This recipe is, to me, not a White Negroni, but a hybrid Martini/White Negroni. This overproof rejiggering and the up serve are uncommon and therefore disqualify this spec from our competition.


Death & Co.’s White Negroni


The 2014 release of Death & Co's first cocktail book firmly established the 1.5, .75, .75 Negroni template as a new American standard, and their White Negroni recipe seems to be the one most commonly called for among American bartenders to this day, coast to coast.


White Negroni (Death & Co. 2014)

1.5 oz Ford's London Dry Gin

.75 oz Suze

.75 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth

Lemon Twist Garnish


In their second book, Cocktail Codex, Death& Co. offers a rejiggered recipe which increases the amount of Dolin and alters the citrus garnish.


White Negroni (Death & Co. 2018)

1.5 oz Beefeater London Dry Gin

1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth

.75 oz Suze

Orange Twist Garnish


For this tasting, I'll be using Death & Company's original 2014 recipe. The first thing to point out is the switch from Plymouth Gin to more citrus-driven London Dry Gin. This seems like a smart way to balance the prevalent vanilla and baking spice notes from the Dolin Blanc, the second substitution. Lillet's quinine and citrus acidity is replaced with a sweeter, more confectionary vermouth which, in turn, calls for a lemon peel garnish to add extra brightness and acidity for balance.


As for their 2018 recipe, increasing the amount of Dolin Blanc and garnishing the drink with an orange peel changes the bitter, floral heart of the drink a little too much. It becomes an easier, more approachable cocktail, but also strays closer to classic Negroni territory and overpowers the dusty gentian which defines the difference between the two.


Punch’s White Negroni


For a more balanced version of this recipe, and one that stays truer to the original White Negroni, I offer Punch magazine's recipe:


White Negroni (Punch)

1.5 oz Gin (unspecified)

1 oz Lillet Blanc

.75 oz Suze

Lemon Twist Garnish


This adaptation is remarkably similar to Death & Co's update but retains Lillet Blanc as the fortified wine of choice. As the gin is unspecified, one would expect the average American bartender to reach for their default mixing London Dry Gin. This recipe also calls for a lemon peel garnish. I opted to include Punch's recipe because it is considered a trusted resource for both American and International bartenders – and because they just spent an entire week focusing on the history of the White Negroni and its inspired variants.


Final Showdown results

  1. Corpse Revived 2020 Champion

  2. Wayne Collins' original 2001 White Negroni

  3. Death & Co 2014 White Negroni

  4. Punch's adapted White Negroni

Starting from the bottom, we have Punch's recipe. While it does call for Wayne Collins’ original ingredients, the rejiggering throws the balance off. It's a good cocktail, but the extra gin and Lillet is unnecessary and ultimately unwelcome. The gin acts like a bully and the increase of Lillet makes for a more assertive quinine bite bordering on the astringent. While the original falls apart as it sits, it's still full of peachy Lillet goodness, whereas this recipe just turns into bitter gin water. I don't think this recipe plays well with very citrus-forward gins.


Next, is Death & Co's recipe. The choice of citrusy London Dry Gin works wonders at balancing the Dolin, but gin should not be 50% of a White Negroni – it's just too much. By increasing the gin and walking back the Suze and Dolin, you inch toward something closer to a Martini riff. The gin easily overpowers, especially during the second half of the drink's life.


At this point I tried the 2018 recipe which I technically liked more as a cocktail, but less as a white Negroni. I agree with the increase of Dolin, as the drink needs a tad more sugar, but more Dolin means extra vanilla, and the orange peel garnish puts the cocktail into Creamsicle territory. The gin and vermouth detract too much of the Suze's gentian. A tasty cocktail nonetheless.


As for Wayne Collins' spec, I still find the original recipe to be wonderfully balanced. It does fall apart too quickly, but the ratio of ingredients makes it one of the tastiest watered-down versions across the board and the best showcase of Lillet Blanc.


Finally, I stand by the winner of the original tasting. The gin knows its role and plays the part with remarkable restraint, earning it a best-supporting actor nomination. Meanwhile, the Aveze and Contratto work incredibly well together with the markedly bitter vermouth balancing the sweetness of the Aveze. The Contratto's wormwood bolsters the gentian in the Aveze and together they form a grapefruit, lemon, and orange "citrus trifecta." This is the only expression I can point to and say that it gets more interesting as it dilutes.


Observations & Conclusions


We went nearly a century before a handful of rowdy boozehounds in NYC decided the Negroni needed more gin and less of everything else, but it took less than a decade for those same bartenders to tinker with Collins' White Negroni. I think that was a mistake.


While a classic Negroni can very easily handle an increase in gin to punch through the Campari and sweet red vermouth, there is far less sugar for the gin to fight in a White Negroni, rendering an increase of gin unnecessary and oftentimes detrimental.


I conclude the equal parts White Negroni was never fully explored to its greatest potential before bartenders decided to put their own spin on it, throwing the drink askew with too much gin. The cocktail was invented to sell a gin, but even Plymouth knew not to throw the balance of this drink off to sell a few more bottles.


The best version of this cocktail then, in my opinion, adheres to the original Negroni format, stays true to the original White Negroni flavor profile, and improves upon the original.


With that in mind, the data shows a 50/50 chance of making a delicious White Negroni no matter your combination of gentian liqueur and fortified wine. Even those White Negronis in the bottom half of the rankings were good cocktails even if they weren't great White Negronis.


A step-by-step guide to building a White Negroni


Since not everyone has access to all spirits, liqueurs, and fortified wines on the market, I wanted to walk through how to build a delicious White Negroni based on the ingredients you have access to.


Start with the basics, then adjust


Always start with the equal parts White Negroni recipe and then adjust your spec for the individual palate.


The best versions of the White Negroni, the ones that stay balanced from start to finish and stay true to the heart of the aperitivo, are all equal parts recipes. I maintain my position that gin should not be 50% of what goes into the mixing glass. At the point where half of the cocktail is gin, you've already strayed too far from the aperitivo heart of the cocktail. Every recipe I've tried which calls 1.5 oz gin ultimately ended up imbalanced, intent be damned.


That said, I do think some of the less-balanced combinations in this tasting could have used for a rejiggering. Hopefully, these tastings will help inform how you rebalance these combinations yourself.


Opt for Plymouth gin


After having tried several of White Negronis with Beefeater, Fords, Brokers, and Tanqueray, my preference is still toward the subtle balance of Plymouth.


If Plymouth is not an option, any London Dry Gin will do. If using very bitter and citrusy combinations of gentian liqueur and fortified wine, I recommend using a spicier, no-citrus gin like Tanqueray. Alternately, use a citrusy London Dry Gin like Beefeater for the heavier, sweeter, or more confectionary offerings to balance them out.


Find the right gentian liqueur


Not every gentian liqueur will work well in a White Negroni depending on your choice of fortified wine. To help you understand which bottle to reach for, I’ve ranked the four gentian liqueurs we used from most versatile to least versatile:

  1. Suze – Suze is the boldest of the gentian liqueurs. It's the sweetest, the most citrusy, and the most bitter, with a gentian flavor that is hard to hide no matter what it's paired with. It holds up to sweeter fortified wines and works well with just about any gin.

  2. Aveze – This gentian liqueur is most similar to Suze, but is a little less bitter with a little more sugar and citrus. As a result, it is bolstered by bitter fortified wines but doesn't pair particularly well with softer, sweeter fortified wines. Often, Aveze just makes for a slightly less interesting version of the Suze White Negronis.

  3. Salers – I love Salers. By itself, it's my favorite of the gentian liqueurs. Unfortunately, it has a softer flavor profile, less sugar, and is lower proof than other gentian liqueurs which makes it trickier to balance in cocktails. If one were to rejigger a Salers White Negroni, it's the only expression where I would increase the gentian liqueur.

  4. Luxardo Bitter Bianco – This is simply the wrong gentian liqueur for this cocktail, despite what the marketing team at Luxardo may insist. By using the exact same botanical blend as their fantastic red bitter aperitivo, Luxardo just made a clear version of the same product. It is a very Italian take on a very French style of liqueur with far too much wormwood, vanilla, and cinnamon in the mix. While delicious in its own right, it does not make for a reasonable substitute for one of the French offerings. In fact, I recently performed a blind Negroni tasting where I used Luxardo Bitter Bianco in place of Campari. It was immediately recognizable from nose to finish as a classic Negroni.


Find the right fortified wine


Just as with gentian liqueurs, not every fortified wine will work well in a White Negroni. I’ve similarly ranked the fortified wines used in this tasting by their versatility. The more versatile the fortified wine, the better it will work with any gentian liqueur you have on hand. Again, the products chosen for this tasting were chosen because they best exemplify their respective sub-categories.

  1. Cocchi Americano Bianco – Not surprisingly, Cocchi Americano Bianco (the most common substitute for Lillet Blanc in cocktails) ended up as the most versatile choice of fortified wine. The Americano category is technically very small and the only comparable quinquina is probably Kina L'Aero D'Or which I can confirm makes for a wonderful, though quite bitter, White Negroni. Cocchi Americano works well with every gentian liqueur.

  2. Contratto Bianco – This one surprised me a bit as I worried the wormwood would prove too much of a bully. Instead, it often provides the right balance against citrusy gentian liqueurs. While Contratto Bianco is one of my favorites in the category of Italian Bianco Vermouth, you can't go wrong with any brand except for the big three. Carpano, Martini & Rossi, and Cinzano all offer extremely confectionary sweet white vermouths devoid of the savory, bitter backbone found in bottlings from other producers. Contratto Bianco pairs best with sweeter, more citrusy gentian liqueurs like Aveze and Suze.

  3. Dolin Blanc – I was really disappointed by how the Dolin Blanc performed, especially considering its popularity as a substitute for Lillet Blanc in this cocktail. The first issue is its lack of bitterness – it doesn't do much to compliment the gentian, but instead simply sweetens it and tames its bite. My biggest issue is the amount of vanilla Dolin Blanc brings to the table. Just about every Dolin Blanc White Negroni finishes on a marshmallowy vanilla note. While often pleasant, it strays too far from the bright, citrusy attack of the original. On occasion, the Dolin brought out an off-putting perfumey note. Perfume notes are normally undetectable between the vermouth and the gentian liqueur so I'm not sure what that reaction was about. I would probably avoid the floral and confectionary blanc vermouths from Dolin (this includes C. Comoz) and go for La Quintinye or Ruoutin to bring more balance to the cocktail. Dolin Blanc pairs best with gentian liqueurs with confectionary notes to echo (Luxardo Bitter Bianco, Salers).

  4. Lillet Blanc – While I found the original White Negroni recipe to hold up quite well, pairing Lillet Blanc with anything other than Suze makes for an imbalanced cocktail. Each Lillet cocktail has a short window where it hits its sweet spot before the whole thing falls apart. There simply isn't enough sugar in the Lillet for it to hold up to very much dilution. This is where serving the cocktail on a large ice cube proves critical. At some point, every Lillet Blanc White Negroni turns into a glass of peach-flavored water. Lillet Blanc works about the same with every gentian liqueur.

Get salty


And last, but certainly not least, never forget about or underestimate the value of salt! A few drops of your preferred saline solution can help temper some of the more bitter and astringent combinations and get some fruitier notes to pop.


Whew! And just like that, I'm tired of Negronis again!


Please send updates and corrections to brian@corpserevived.com.

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