Though it shares a name with the most famous of Italian cocktails, the White Negroni is more than just a washed-out version of its ruby-hued forebear. The combination of gin, Suze and Lillet Blanc has its own identity. But exactly what that identity consists of is up for debate—at least according to our recent blind tasting of 10 versions of the drink culled from bartenders across the country.
Perhaps because the White Negroni belongs to the school of the modern classics rather than the more strictly codified classics, or perhaps because the recipe is free from the preconceptions that burden the original, bartenders took more than a few liberties in crafting their takes. Though the original White Negroni was not an equal-parts build like its predecessor, one bartender made it so; very few called for the prescribed Lillet, while another suggested the unorthodox substitution of sotol for gin. On the whole, whereas the Negroni is hard to get wrong, the White Negroni proved hard to get right.
The judges—myself, author Brad Thomas Parsons, Long Island Bar owner Toby Cecchini, Ci Siamo bar manager Matt Chavez and Punch art director Lizzie Munro—expected the recipes to let the gin shine in a way that it simply cannot in the traditional formula. “With Campari out of the equation, gin stands out,” explained Parsons. This was central to the judges’ understanding of an archetypal White Negroni. As Cecchini noted, “It should not be as overbearing as a traditional Negroni; [it’s] a little softer, a little smoother, the gin might speak a little more forthrightly.” Chavez echoed that sentiment, stating: “It should check all the boxes of the Negroni, but you’re ordering a White Negroni for a reason—it should still be bitter, but more floral and the juniper should stand out.”
The recipe that best answered the call was that of Harrison Ginsberg at New York’s Overstory. The unanimous winner, Ginsberg’s recipe combined equal parts Fords gin and Cocchi Americano with a smaller measure of Suze–for the requisite “gentian punch,” as Cecchini described it—and a teaspoon of verjus blanc for a bright boost. The combination of ingredients presented a fresh green pepper quality that was unexpected but not unwelcome, and still held true to the aperitivo nature of the original White Negroni. As Munro noted, “It feels like a real companion to the Negroni.”
Though few felt as archetypal and more-ish as Ginsberg’s, Toby Maloney’s Polka Dot Negroni, which opts for Salers in place of Suze and blanc vermouth rather than Lillet, was a favorite. Cecchini described it as “well-knit,” and it was one of few examples that had the tasters voluntarily going back for another sip. The Negroni Bianco served at Dante’s two New York locations—a mixture of gin, both blanc and dry vermouths, Tempus Fugit’s Kina L’Aéro d’Or, a dash of verjus and lemon bitters served up in a Nick & Nora glass—was also well-liked for its “gentle” approach to the drink and its pleasing roundness.
Lastly, the White Negroni from Sother Teague of Amor y Amargo was a notable entry. The most bitter of the bunch (unsurprising from a bartender whose tagline is “I ♡ bitters”), the recipe called for an ounce and a half of gin, three-quarters of an ounce of Suze and an equal measure of dry vermouth, finished with a few dashes of chamomile bitters and a lemon twist. Parsons, himself a bitters aficionado, thought it might read as “aggressively bitter for the average drinker,” but it did not put off the judges. In fact, Cecchini noted of the White Negroni, “You want this drink to be a little challenging.”