The three-part melody that makes a Negroni has been much futzed with during the drink’s speedy ascent to barroom royalty, giving birth to countless riffs. None, however, have become quite as pervasive as London bartender Wayne Collins’ White Negroni.
The drink pushes the same buttons as a Negroni, but color isn’t the only digression. The substitution of Lillet Blanc (or sometimes Cocchi Americano, or bianco vermouth) for sweet vermouth introduces a floral aspect to the drink, while the effect of the French gentian-based Suze is more herbal than Campari.
With the boom of new red bitter options coming on the market, ready to fill glasses for every whim, it was only a matter of time before before a bitter liqueur distilled with the White Negroni in mind appeared. Enter Luxardo Bitter Bianco: Released this year, nearly 200 years after the original Maraschino, Bitter Bianco acts as a smooth-talking, clear-hued alternative to the classic Italian red bitter.
“My family had a Bitter Bianco product in the 1930s,” says owner Matteo Luxardo. “I was excited to have the opportunity to use an old recipe and give it a twist.” The updated recipe was formulated with bartenders in mind, those seeking the flavor profile of the classic aperitivo liqueur “but without the color.” And while it leans on the same herbs and roots as the red-hued Luxardo Bitter, it drinks like a more herbaceous, gateway alternative.
“[It] doesn’t demand much,” Maison Premiere’s Shae Minnillo says. “It’s got light touches of more delicate aromatics, but still comes through with a bitter kick.” This profile makes it a natural fit for spritzes and citrus-forward drinks, as well as spirituous stirred cocktails, where it can add complexity in small doses. While intended for use in the White Negroni—or Negroni Bianco, as it’s called when Bitter Bianco is employed—it’s also being called on in drinks both adjacent and far-reaching.
Six New Cocktails With Bitter Bianco
Take the New Kid in Town from Sother Teague, of Amor y Amargo. Using the Dirty Martini as his muse, Teague uses cachaça and manzanilla sherry to achieve a similar savory punch, then stirs in Bitter Bianco and orange bitters to add bitter complexity to the drink.
In his Come Sta, La Luna, Minnillo also leans on cachaça, but instead nods in the direction of a winterized Daiquiri, marrying Bitter Bianco with grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup for a cool-weather shaken drink. Meanwhile, Jim Kearns of Slowly Shirley and The Happiest Hour achieves the trifecta of sweet, sour and bitter by shaking Bitter Bianco, bianco vermouth and Suze with grapefruit and lime juices in his Salty Duncan.
In fact, citrus is frequently called on when mixing with Bitter Bianco. For Middle Branch’s Lucinda Sterling, the bitter liqueur reminds her of the smell of oranges, which, she says, “make it perfect both in a spirits-forward drink and a more refreshing one, like mine.”
Her ruby-hued Rosa di Roma is built on a base of Cognac, which she pairs with Bitter Bianco and dry orange Curaçao for a double dose of citrus aromatics; she then brightens it all up with lemon and mint. While it channels the savory, grainy notes of Cognac, it remains imminently day-drinkable.
Keith Larry of Employee’s Only also uses Bitter Bianco as a complement to fresh citrus: His Dandelo is a Bitter Bianco-based spritz that calls on lemon juice, simple syrup and cucumber, for a complex but dead-simple take on the iconic aperitivo drink. As Larry says, “[Bitter Bianco’s] intensified bitter notes and more robust body help it stand up well to lemon and sugar.”
That potent yet light touch is why Edward Hansel of The Richardson and Momofuku Nishi thinks Bitter Bianco is the perfect gateway for the bitter-curious. He uses it in his Capputivo to buff out the hard edges of two kinds of amari, coffee liqueur and lemon juice. It’s delicate and nuanced, but still revving—which is why Hansel suggests drinking it to start either your day or your evening, “at 7 a.m. or p.m., with rad sunglasses on.”