White Negronis might not be white, but they’re always delicious

Before I tell you about the Alpine Negroni, the cocktail that got me chasing gentian drinks down their rabbit holes, riddle me this: When is a White Negroni not white?

When you follow the recipe.

It’s a trick question. I like to worry over minutia, and this oddity has vexed me for years. Because if you’ve ever had a White Negroni made to the original specifications, with the French gentian liqueur Suze, then you know that calling it “white” is akin to calling the original Negroni “green.” Thanks to the Suze, the White Negroni is as yellow as Big Bird.

The creation of the White Negroni is one of many bar tales where substitution was the mother of invention: Visiting France for an event in 2001 and needing to make Negronis but unable to find Campari, London bartender Wayne Collins picked up Suze instead, adding it, and the French aperitif wine Lillet Blanc, to the Plymouth gin base. Collins sadly passed away in 2023, but drinks writer Robert Simonson spoke to Collins about the White Negroni for Punch, where Collins indicated he just thought the name would catch on easily with industry folks.

Simonson says he’d always assumed “white” to be a stand-in for “clear,” even though most drinks with “white” in their name actually are. “I think his marketing sense was sound. I doubt anyone would buy a Clear Negroni, or a Yellow Negroni,” Simonson said in an email.

The Mezcal White Negroni on the left is made with Suze, Cocchi Americano and Mezcal, while the other is made with Mezcal, Salers and Dolin Blanc. Courtesy of Scott Suchman for The Washington Post, food styling by Lisa Cherkasky

If you haven’t stopped reading, congratulations! Because a White Negroni by any other name would taste as bittersweet. Though clearly related, White Negronis made with classic French gentian liqueurs are notably different on the palate from their red cousins, largely because of how the botanicals in those liqueurs differ from red Italian bitters.

To be clear, Campari itself, like many other bitters, bittersweet liqueurs and aromatized wines, almost certainly contains some variety of gentian, a plant that’s a component of a huge number of cocktail ingredients. Gentian is the only specific botanical acknowledged on the label of vital cocktail bitters Angostura.

In many of these liquids, the gentian acts a bitter base on which other flavors are layered.

There’s a long Alpine tradition of gentian herbal medicine evolving into this specific liqueur, often known as gentiane in France. These are more purely gentian-focused, typically made of gentian lutea, a bright yellow flowering plant that grows wild in many mountain regions; the plant has thick roots that are dried and used for the drink. “It’s a gnarly plant,” says Jake Parrott, portfolio manager for importer Haus Alpenz. “Imagine 30 horseradish roots kind of tied together growing in all different directions and buried in the ground.”

This Alpine White Negroni Cocktail isn’t white at all. Courtesy of Scott Suchman for The Washington Post, food styling by Lisa Cherkasky

Parrott sometimes describes Haus Alpenz’s goal as trying to find “new drinkers of old things.” Along with the aperitifs Bonal and Cocchi Americano, both of which include gentian in their roster of botanicals, they import Salers, a gentiane from a producer that has operated in France’s uplands, the Massif Central, since the late 1800s. The version of Salers they bring to the United States doesn’t sport the traffic-light yellow of Suze, Avèze or of the Salers sold in France — it’s a pale gold and has a delicate woodsy, earthy bitterness. (It’s tough to describe flavor, but one tasting note Haus Alpenz mentions is radish, and yes! Delightfully so.)

“It provides a focused backbone for a cocktail, and allows for making colorless drinks with a lot of character — part of the trompe l’oeil that’s so fun in cocktails,” Parrott says. “Red bitter liqueurs are driven by both citrus and gentian, with the citrus providing both flavor and bitterness. … Gentian liqueurs can allow flavors of the other ingredients to come through while providing an earthy backbeat.”

What got me tasting gentian drinks recently was the Alpine Negroni, a recipe that I stumbled across while in search of drinks to make use of crème de menthe.

Right away I saw the Alpine Negroni had bona fides, coming from Naren Young when he was still creative director at Dante NYC. When I read through the (somewhat daunting) list of ingredients, I could practically taste it, and the reality lived up to the imagining: Minty freshness but with more botanical complexity, with bitterness from the gentian, it’s a drink that conveys cold mountain air, laced with the scent of pine. It’s a drink that tastes wonderfully green.

I asked Young, now creative director of Sweet Liberty in Miami, about the drink’s genesis. At Dante, he said, they always had 12 permanent Negroni variations listed on the menu, but would throw in one “that was a little more left field. A bit of a head scratcher, if you will.” With the Alpine Negroni, “I wanted to create something that was more of a winter drink, hence the use of alpine ingredients, plus a little mint liqueur for brightness and the woodsy aroma of rosemary as the garnish.”

It’s one of the best Negroni riffs I’ve had, but I know that many cocktailers are unlikely to have all these ingredients at their fingertips. So I extracted myself from the depths of the botanical rabbit hole and started nibbling around at the entrance of the warren. My previous favorite White Negroni variation was one made with mezcal, the classic three equal parts formula, much easier to make.

Both the Mezcal version and the original gin-based recipe are great spots to play around with different varieties of gentian liqueur. Compare how the drink works with a classic French gentian liqueur like Salers or Suze, where the grassiness of the liqueur highlights the smoke and vegetal notes in the agave spirit, and with a more Italian-style gentian/bitter orange liqueur such as Luxardo Bitter Bianco (which is nearly colorless) or Don Ciccio & Figli’s Cinque. I may not ever get comfortable with calling this Negroni variation “white,” but I’m fine with calling it “delicious.”

Alpine Negroni

Serves 1 (makes 1 drink)

Storage: The salt solution can be stored indefinitely in a clean dropper bottle at room temperature.


For the salt solution

2 ounces (57 grams) salt (any kind)

2 ounces (57 grams) boiling water

For the drink

1 large ice cube, plus smaller cubes for stirring

1 ounce London dry gin

3/4 ounce Suze liqueur

3/4 ounce Cocchi Americano aperitivo

1/2 ounce génépy

1 bar spoon white crème de menthe liqueur, preferably Tempus Fugit

3 dashes lemon bitters

1 dash salt solution

1 sprig fresh rosemary, for garnish


Make the salt solution: In a small jar, combine the salt with water and stir until the salt has completely dissolved. Transfer to a clean dropper bottle and store at room temperature until needed. You should get about 1/4 cup.

Make the drink: Place a large ice cube in a rocks glass. Fill a mixing glass half full with smaller ice cubes. Add the gin, Suze, Cocchi Americano, génépy, crème de menthe, bitters and salt solution, and stir to combine and chill, about 10 seconds. Strain into the glass. Roll the sprig of rosemary between your palms to release its aromas, then add it to the glass and serve.

— From Naren Young, creative director at Sweet Liberty in Miami.

Mezcal White Negroni

Serves 1 (one drink)


1 large ice cube, plus small ice cubes for stirring

1 ounce smoky mezcal, such as Del Maguey VIDA

1 ounce gentian liqueur, such as Suze, Salers or Luxardo Bitter Bianco

1 ounce Cocchi Americano aperitivo

One (3-by-1-inch) strip grapefruit or lemon zest, for garnish


Place a large ice cube in a rocks glass. Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice cubes. Add the mezcal, liqueur and Cocchi and stir to combine and chill, about 10 seconds. Strain into the glass. Twist the zest to express the oils over the surface of the drink, then drop it into the drink and serve.

— Adapted from various sources.

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