Our First Negroni Club Is...
We started our Negroni Club to share all the things a negroni can be. On the one hand, it’s an established drink with a bold flavor - one that captures a tradition and sense of style. One sip and you are transported to a sun-drenched Italian cafe. On the other hand, few cocktails have the same thirst for play, experimentation, and evolution. It’s never stuffy or stale, and always, unapologetically recognizable. The Tom Waits of cocktails - the negroni is comfortably old, yet eternally young.
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We wanted to put together a negroni that would capture that essence. A negroni that has the classic feel, yet also light and bright with a summery playfulness of its own. So we went to the source of those who know how to brood and celebrate (often in the same breath) - the authority on the bittersweet life: we went French.
This “Blonde Negroni” is comprised of equal parts barrel-aged gin, a classic gentian aperitif, and a lightly sweet blanc vermouth. While it may seem odd to use all French ingredients in an Italian classic, it’s actually quite apropos as this riff has firm roots in France. To mix up a new French portmanteau: an Eue de Joie de Vivre.
The Blonde (or White) Negroni, was first showcased by Wayne Collins in Bordeaux, France in 2001. The original riff called for Suze in place of Campari, and Lillet Blanc in place of sweet vermouth. Popularized by the bar Pegu Club, most bartenders will mix up this formulation should you ask. With a marked bitter note and weighty sweetness, this drink is very much the original’s sibling.
The journey to our Blonde Negroni started with the backbone of this drink: the bitter aperitif. Salers Gentiane Aperitif is one of the lesser known gems of our shop. Salers has been around since 1885, making it the oldest remaining originator of this style. Salers made Massiff Cental, and the town of Salers, world famous as the source of French bitter liqueurs. Lighter than Suze, with less sugar and no artificial coloring, it is one of the purest expressions of gentian flavor. The vegetal, floral, and grassy notes lend a terroir often lost in regional aperitifs. Hints of citrus peel, mint, and anise round out the profile. It’s wonderful in a spritz with just a splash of soda and a lemon twist.
To balance the vegetal bitterness of Salers without overwhelming its complex notes, we found our Goldilocks in blanc French vermouth. This style of vermouth was born in Chambery, France in 1881. Comoz’s stone fruit forward flavors and crystal appearance are a perfect match for Salers, bringing to mind a refreshing summer nectarine salad, supported by a confident wormwood throughline.
The gin that balances this melange of earth and fruit flavors without drowning them in juniper is France’s barrel-aged Citadelle Reserve. This unique gin is the final puzzle piece that snaps the cocktail together. Just like the spirit of this negroni, this gin is softened by time in barrel, without losing its crisp texture. The botanicals in this lightly gold spirit include genepi, yuzu and bleuet (a flower of great significance to France), and is aged in 5 types of wooden barrels before being meticulously blended.
We highly recommend finishing with a particular citrus peel: grapefruit instead of the traditional orange. The grapefruit peel, oil expressed and floated in the cocktail, tempers the bitterness while pulling the bouquet of summer flavors together.
A good summer cocktail is not only light (and the significantly lower sugar content of the French ingredients versus their Italian counterparts makes this drink quite a bit lighter!) but one that’s also easy to batch for outdoor revelry and good company. To batch the Blonde Negroni, dilute your spirits volume with 20% water, combine and chill in the freezer for at least two hours. Once chilled, pour and serve.
Without further ado - Alonzi! Let’s mix this all together:
The Blonde Negroni:
1 oz Citadelle Reserve Gin
1 oz Salers Gentiane Aperitif
1 oz Comoz Blanc Vermouth
Stir with plenty of ice for 30 seconds, strain into a coupe glass. Express and float a grapefruit peel. Serve up, just in time for Bastille Day - “Je lève mon verre à la liberté!”