John B. Reyna
Suze me, have you ever tried Suze?
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
There are a lot of lovely bitter liqueurs out there. Suze was introduced to me as the French version of Campari, which, honestly, doesn’t do it justice. Not that Campari isn’t amazing, it is! Why else would we write about it? But Suze and Campari are uniquely different. They both have a balance of amazing bitter and sweetness. However, Suze showcases a herbal complexity and intensity of aromatics that isn't as easily discernible in Campari.
Similarly, the were both created as an aperitif. Both colors distinguish their use in a cocktail. But that’s where the similarities end.
We have two video versions of this post on our YouTube Channel, each with a different cocktail demonstration included:
Suze is made from wild gentian root grown in the French Alps. It packs bittersweet herbs into a clear, but brightly distinctive golden yellow liqueur. Suze brings flavors of vanilla, candied orange peel, lemon, honey, and spice.
Humans evolved thinking was bitter was poisonous and should be spit out. But the early medicinal community thought this may actually be good for you. Bitterness increases the production of saliva and digestive juices, which could actually be useful in expelling toxins and moving digestion along.
Spirits distilled from gentian root began being produced in the mid 1700s and quickly became popular around the Swiss, German, and French Alps.
Fernand Moureaux inherited his family distillery in 1885. However, nearing bankruptcy, he needed a new idea to keep the distillery alive. He joined forces with his bank manager’s son to create a new style of aperitif. Most aperitifs at the time were made from wine, but they went after the growing bitter root market. Gentian root was already being used for a number of different products including Campari, Moxie Soda, and Angostura bitters.
Moureaux and his associate quickly created a unique product. By 1889, Suze was being commercially produced, and Fernand presented it at the world’s fair in Paris. Suze was awarded the gold medal.
In 1965, Pernod-Ricard took over production and researched environmentally friendly and efficient ways of cultivating gentian root. He made the process as natural as possible without the use of fertilizer or irrigation, while maximizing yields.
Where the name came from remains a mystery to this day.
The original distillery was in Maisons-Alfort in northern France. Now it resides in Thuir, which is in the Pyrénées-Orientales at the very southern tip of France along the Mediterranean.
The Thuir distillery is in a beautiful structure that Gustave Eiffel designed. Perhaps you have heard of his tower? Still in style, its ceiling is made of corrugated iron, nuts, and bolts. The Thuir distillery also produces Byrrh and Pernod Absinthe. Add that to the list of places in France we need to visit!
Suze has stuck with the original recipe and traditional production. This includes a mix of wild and farmed gentian root. There are two gentian farms focused on production. One is in Seine-Maritime, which is the Normandy region of coastal Northern France. The other is in Auvergne, a historic province in south central France.
Gentian Root farming in these areas date back to the year 197. However, it's a difficult crop that takes at best 10 years to mature. On top of that, gentian root needs constant protection from other crops and grass.
Once hand-picked, the gentian root is washed and trimmed. The root is then left to macerate in neutral alcohol for at least a full year. After, the root is pressed to extract all possible flavor. The gentian juice is then distilled a second time, a process unique to Suze. Finally, other aromatics are added in. Aged in well-seasoned casks for 18 months.
1 oz gin
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1 oz Suze
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Stir.
Strain the mixing glass contents into a chilled coupe.
We stick with equal proportions to honor a true Negroni. However, many recipes increase the gin by up to half an ounce and reduce the Suze down to ½ oz. If you don’t like bitter, this reduced recipe is a good way to introduce Suze.
This drink was supposedly invented in 2001 France when British bartender Wayne Collins could not find Campari or sweet rouge vermouth. Instead, he substituted Suze and Lillet Blanc (relatively sweet, white vermouth), two common French apertifs.
If you're interested in watching a quick cocktail demonstration of the White Negroni, checkout our YouTube channel:
1 oz. rhum agricole blanc ¾ oz. brandy (We used Cognac) ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice ½ oz. Suze ½ oz. honey syrup ¼ oz. simple syrup
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled.
Double strain into a chilled coupe, then garnish with orange twist.
This drink was created at Lost Hours, which was a bar in Koreatown in NYC. From the creators of the famed cocktail bar, Death & Co., Lost Hours did not survive the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. Lost Hours built a cocktail menu structured around the four elements of nature: Air, water, earth and fire. And with our powers combined…. JK you Captain Planet fans, but this is a seriously cool idea, and wish I had the chance to visit.
The Pennington Daiquiri fell into the earth section, bringing in vegetal and earth flavors. Beverage director, Tyson Buhler says, “The grassiness of rhum agricole balanced by the herbaceous flavor of Suze helps create a complex but easy-drinking Daiquiri-inspired cocktail.”
If you're interested in watching a quick cocktail demonstration on the Pennington Daiquiri, checkout our YouTube channel:
Suze is seriously fun. I love it with lemon or something citrusy to complement herbaceous goodness. But coming in at only 20% ABV, it is a great extra kick to add to your favorite boozier drinks. Add a splash to our next Old fashioned or martini, and please, report back.
Sending bright yellow love,
#Cognac #lemonjuice #honeysyrup #simplesyrup