This Suze Sour, with its cheery yellow color, balances sweet citrus and bitter herbaceous notes in a tangy and bitter sour. The bitterness compels you to keep drinking – just to check. It’s sweet, but that spice and hint of bitterness coat the tongue, making it an intriguing cocktail I had stolen from my hand all evening.
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What is Suze?
Suze is a French gentian liqueur first sold in 1889 by Fernand Moureaux. The spirit is distilled with 15-year-old gentian roots and a secret aromatic bouquet. Like many bitter liqueurs, the exact ingredients are a secret, but you can taste bitterness and bright citrus notes as well.
It’s named after the creator’s stepsister, Suzanne Jaspart. After its first gold award in 1889 at the Word’s Fair in Paris, the french gentian liqueur has continued to grow in popularity, and the company frequently creates specialty bottles designed by famous French artists and personalities.
Gentian takes between 20 and 30 years to reach maturity. And the company combines both wild and cultivated gentian into the spirit. Once the gentian is harvested, it’s macerated in barrels for a year, then the gentian juice is pressed, distilled, and combined with their secret floral bouquet and bottled in the South of France. Check out this video here.
What Does Suze Taste Like?
I joke that Suze gentian liqueur tastes like anger. Years ago, I had a great cocktail at 21c’s Proof on Main restaurant in Louisville at a Willett bourbon dinner. When we asked the mixologist to tell us about what went into the cocktail, he described Suze as adding a “bit of anger. Ever since I describe any cocktail with Suze with that in mind.
Suze liqueur tastes of gentian – an ingredient used in making bitters. It’s very bitter and vegetal tasting. It tastes the way it smells after you’ve spent a few hours trimming bushes and vegetation in your yard. The flavor is deeply bitter, pungent, and earthy, but also sweet.
To get an idea of its basic taste, I treat it like a bitter. I pour a bit over ice and ice soda water to see how dilution and lower temperatures tame some of that herbaceous woodiness.
Flavors in a Suze Sour
To create this sour, I wanted to use egg white (or aquafaba) to tame some of the aggressive bitterness. The citrus notes coming off a glass of Suze are no joke – they hide just behind those woody, bitter aromas. It smells as if you’re in a kitchen where someone’s just peeled an orange or lemon.
But when it came to simple syrup, I played with adding citrus in the form of pineapple syrup (made from fresh pineapple syrup, not cooked pineapple syrup). It was the right choice, far better than other suggestions to use agave syrup. The bright notes from the fresh pineapple syrup tied the sweetness of the bourbon to the citrus notes from the Suze.
For the sour element, I chose lemon over lime as it worked much better with whiskey. Both lime juice and lemon juice worked beautifully with gin as the base spirit.
Because Suze has so much bitterness in it as a French aperitif, you won’t need to add any additional bitters to this cocktail.
I tested this Suze Sour cocktail with both a botanical (lighter juniper) gin and a lovely bourbon whiskey at 95 proof. Both were delicious. The whiskey Suze sour tasted sweeter and more citrusy to me, while the Suze gin sour had bright floral notes paired with the herbal notes from the Suze. When I chose a more citrusy gin – I had a much more concentrated citrus flavor overall in the drink.
How to Make a Suze Whiskey Sour (or Suze Gin Sour)
As with any sour, balance and proportions are key. I used just a ½ ounce of the Suze to keep the flavor balanced. I also added an egg white (or aquafaba) to the drink to soften and bind the flavors together.
For more on a classic whiskey sour, head over to my article on how to make a classic whiskey sour. If you’d like to know more about the Boston or egg white sour, go here.
But back to making the cocktail. Add your lemon juice, pineapple syrup, Suze, and bourbon or rye whiskey to your shaker. Add in your foaming agent if desired (egg white or aquafaba). Add ice, shake for 10-12 minutes. If you added the egg white or aquafaba, strain into a cocktail mixing glass and whisk with a hand-held electronic latte whisk for 20-30 seconds to build a great head of foam.
Strain into a coupe glass and sip away. I garnished with a cocktail cherry, but if you have fresh pineapple, a healthy topper of that will work wonders
Suze Cocktail Tips
Suze can be aggressive in cocktails, but when wielded in balance with other flavors in the drink, its bitterness tames overly sweet or sour cocktails in a way that’s intriguing on the tongue. Here are some tips for using Suze in cocktails:
- Start with less Suze and add to your taste preference
- Make sure you smell the flavor elements you’re combining. 80% of flavor comes from aroma – so if it smells good together, it usually tastes great together.
- Use base spirits with complementary flavors – floral, citrusy, or slightly earthy and bitter.
- If your cocktail comes out too bitter, both sour and sweet elements can be used to tame an overly bitter drink. Think about serving over ice too. Chilling mutes aggressive flavors, and as a bitter drink dilutes over ice it often because sweeter.
Other Cocktail Recipes You Might Enjoy
Recommended Bar Tools
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You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Suze Sour – a Bad SUZE-uation
- 1.5 oz floral gin, or whiskey, 95-100 proof
- 1/2 oz Suze
- 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 oz pineapple simple
- 1 egg white/ ½ oz aquafaba
- Garnish: lemon wheel or cocktail cherry
- Combine base spirit, Suze, lemon juice, pineapple simple, and egg white/aquafaba. Add ice and shake for 30 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a cocktail cherry or lemon wheel. If you have a latte whisk, shake for only 10-12 seconds, strain into a mixing glass, and use the latte whisk on it for 20-30 seconds. Pour into a prepared and chilled coupe glass and garnish as desired.