Gentian liqueurs (Salers, Suze, Aveze)

As it hits 95ºF/35ºC outside, two French spirits come to mind. One is absinthe—which can be delightfully cooling if you do the right things with it—and the other is Suze, which I permanently associate with a hot, wonderful visit to Languedoc many years ago.

Turns out that, while Suze may be the big brand of French gentian aperitif liqueur, Salers is older, and Aveze is not to be discounted. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Auvergne has other regional producers, too. A few years ago, Wayne Curtis wrote a nice brief for Punch Magazine on these liqueurs, so I won’t rehash it. But I can report that the only practical difference between Suze and Salers is color:

Suze will turn your drink yellow-green, and Salers will not. Otherwise, they are nearly indistinguishable.

Speaking of which, the Blond Negroni is a really lovely drink (if you like that sort of things): equal parts dry gin (actually, I prefer Hayman’s Old Tom), Dolin Blanc, and Salers or Suze. A grapefruit twist is the ideal garnish.


When Salers was first imported, I made a clear Negroni with it for a bar I was running at the time (circa 2011). Gary included the recipe in his first ‘Negroni’ book (“The Negroni: A Gaz Regan Notion”). I guess my inclusion of another hard to source ingredient, Dimmi Liquore di Milano, helped inhibit its popularity.
In any case, it is still one of my favorite concoctions that I came up with:

Negroni Bianco
1.5 oz. London Dry Gin
1 oz. Dimmi Liquore di Milano
1 oz. Salers Geniane apertif
Ice, stir quickly to integrate. Strain to large cube. Lemon and orange peel expressed.



Intriguing. I’ve seen Dimmi at Astor, but I don’t believe I’ve ever sampled it.

Definitely worth a try. Versatile for sure.

Personally, I prefer Suze to Salers and Avèze but all make fine drinks. There are indeed more distilleries making gentian in France, Switzerland and even Germany, apparently. An interesting newcomer is the Amer Gentiane from the Distillerie de Grandmont. A really stunning product.

Gentian are another of those traditional aperitifs that modern marketing departments try to sell to younger generations mixing it with tonic. Although I love the White Negroni and its variations, my preferred serves are of the traditional French kind: with Crème de Cassis or, above all, lemon syrup (I normally do a oleo-saccharum), both topped with soda.

If French is no issue, there’s an interesting book dedicated to gentian: La Gentiane - L’aventure de la free jaune. The part on spirits goes beyond gentian liqueurs, as it include gentian-forward products such as Picon, Bonal and Secrestat.