The modern backbar is no stranger to gentian. The alpine flowering plant—specifically, its tuberous root—finds its way into everything from vermouth to amaro to aperitivo liqueurs, where it adds its signature bitterness to each ingredient. But no product showcases gentian more prominently than, well, gentian liqueurs.
Originally created in the French Alps, gentian liqueurs first appeared in writing in the late 18th century, but the brands that remain staples of the category today—Avèze, Salers Aperitif and Suze—were introduced in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Though they began as medicinal tonics, gentian liqueurs were popularized as an aperitif served on the rocks, often with a squeeze of lemon juice. Today, however, they are more commonly used to add herbal complexity to an array of cocktails, from modern classics like the White Negroni to new riffs on familiar templates, such as the Bijou Blanc, a fairer take on the Bijou.
Given recent limitations of the supply chain, these bottles—particularly Suze—have become increasingly difficult to source. But if you’re lucky enough to find one, here’s how to make the most of it.
Created in 1929, Avèze is the softest, and most mellow, of the gentian liqueurs listed here, making it an ideal starting point for those new to the category. Fresh wild and cultivated yellow gentian is combined with alcohol, then rested for up to nine months before being mixed with other undisclosed roots and herbs to create its signature profile. The resulting liqueur has a subtle sweetness and weight to it. “It’s round and unctuous and brings gravity and heft to cocktails,” according to Toby Maloney, partner at Chicago’s Violet Hour. Try it alongside gin to amplify both ingredients’ botanical profiles.
- Price: $30
- ABV: 15%
Salers is the oldest of the surviving gentian liqueur producers, originating in 1885. It is distilled with gentian root drawn from the slopes of Puy Mary, an extinct volcano and famed source of the bittering agent, and matured in oak barrels. Unlike Avèze or Suze, Salers uses no artificial coloring, resulting in a pale straw hue with a pared-back profile to match. Swapping out a sweeter liqueur for Salers can easily put a drier spin on a drink, while pairing it with tequila, as in the Margarita Verde, emphasizes its vegetal earthiness.
- Price: $22
- ABV: 16%
Suze, which was first bottled in 1889, is the bitterest of the bunch and also claims the highest proof, making it well-suited to stand up to other robust flavors (like smoky mezcal or fruit-forward Midori) in a cocktail. Chaim Dauermann of New York’s The Up & Up, who uses the liqueur in his Insanely Good Gin & Tonic, says, “Suze lends a bracing bitterness that’s still very clean, crisp and inviting.”
- Price: $36
- ABV: 20%