Suze: The Best Apéritif You've Never Heard Of

If choosing an apéritif were based upon looks alone, then Suze would be the clear winner. Fernand Moureaux developed Suze in 1885, but it was in 1896 that Henri Porte designed the tall and slender amber bottle, which would become iconic. The vessel – and with it, the liqueur inside – shot to stardom in 1912 when Pablo Picasso depicted an image of it in his collage “Glass and bottle of Suze.” While Suze has since reigned supreme in France, it only recently became available in the U.S., thanks in part to the urging of bartenders around the country who touted its appearance, bitter flavor profile, and the number of contrasting ways it can be used.

‘Gen’-teel Roots

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Upon opening a bottle of Suze, one is, at first, struck by its floral scent. The scent is attributed to the Gentian Plant, a yellow flower with massive roots, found on the Alpine mountainside. The roots are used to prepare the base of the liqueur, and are a major differentiator to other wine-based apéritifs.  Another factor that sets Suze apart from its competitors is its golden hue, earning it the nickname “The Yellow Fairy.” 

The Saga of Suze

When it comes to the actual name of this apéritif, however, there are varying accounts as to how Suze came to be “Suze.” The first story alleges that Moureaux purchased the formula from an elderly distiller in the Canton de Bern on the Swiss Jura Mountains, where the gentian ran wild and the Suze River flowed. For years, the man had served the liqueur to locals as a medicinal tonic, and nearing his death, was eager to pass on the recipe to the Parisian businessman. The aging man sold it, stating that one day it would “flow in France like the Suze.”  

The second explanation is more straightforward, alleging that the apéritif was named after Suzanne Jaspart, Moreaux’s sister-in-law. She is said to have enjoyed the drink so much during tennis sessions that there was no other choice but to label it in her honor.

The debate between which of the latter is true has been highly contested, but never settled. However, the mystery behind its origins only added to the allure of Suze, and played an integral role in advertising campaigns to come, where the apéritif was billed as “Suze the Inimitable,” and later featured under the slogan “Suze Stands Out” in film and television promotions.    

Coming to the USA

In 1965, the rights to Suze were purchased by Pernod, with the intention of global distribution. As a result, Pernod has since altered the original version to appeal to a more modern audience. The exact aromatics and proportions used are still a guarded secret, yet the current Suze is definitively sweeter, with subtle hints of orange and vanilla.  

As of 2012, Domaine Select began importing Suze to the U.S., much to the joy of American mixologists who had discovered it in Europe and previously had to slug it back in a suitcase or have it shipped overseas. While once served underground, the apéritif can now be found on many mainstream cocktail menus and for purchase at select retailers; a bottle will run you around $30.

Traditionalists will appreciate that Suze is best consumed solo – neat or on the rocks. For those reluctant to down a glass of it, Suze can be swapped out for bitter modifiers in classic drinks like the Negroni or Trident. It also produces a gorgeous color and makes for a beautiful backdrop to the white wine spritzer below.  

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Want to stir one up at home?  Here’s how you do it:

Suze Spritz 

Ingredients

Dash of Suze

3-Ounces Chilled Aromatic White Wine, Such as Riesling 

1-Ounce Club Soda

Orange Zest for Garnish

Directions

  1. Pour your wine into a glass (adding ice is optional), and add a dash of Suze.  Lightly stir.  
  2. Top with club soda.
  3. Garnish with orange zest.