While you might think that Suze is yet another bitter aperitif made in the late 1800s, there are a couple of things that set Suze apart.
Firstly, it is French. Secondly, it’s made from the gentian root, which grows in the mountains of Switzerland and France. But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s an ingredient that adds a ‘something-special’ boost to any drink.
In a way, you could see it as an ingredient that adds a bit of an umami element. It has a grounded depth to its flavour and as such, it provides a necessary base note.
Something of a cult hit with bartenders, Suze has a bright, yellow-hued appearance and a taste that is both bitter and floral. Sometimes described as “topsoil candy”, this aperitif has an earthiness that is unmistakable but obviously it is considered by some to be an acquired taste.
When it comes to the name, there are two origin stories, both of which are acknowledged, but neither can be confirmed. The first says that Suze is a reference to Moreaux’s sister, Suzanne. The second states that it is called Suze because of the Suze River, which runs near where Moreaux is said to have gathered the ingredients needed to make the spirit.
Labelled “l’amie de l’estomac,” the presence of gentian makes this concoction an excellent remedy for an upset stomach. A second, perhaps serendipitous side effect? Increased salivation. Yes, Suze literally makes your mouth water.
The science behind gentiane—as the class of gentian-based drinks are known—is pretty straightforward. Humans evolved to quickly reject anything bitter, as that would give them forewarning of poisons, which tend to be bitter.
When the body detects the presence of bitter, it steps up the production of saliva and digestive juices to more quickly usher out the toxin. As such, non-poisonous bitters could be conscripted to stimulate the appetite and aid in digestion.
Suze is made with gentian farmed in Auvergne and Seine-Maritime, which is then harvested, sliced and macerated in high-proof alcohol for an extended period before being mellowed with sugar and other herbs.
Suze is often associated with artists, more often than not due to the cameo that a bottle of Suze Made in the 1912 collage Verre et Bouteille de Suze by Pablo Picasso.
With it’s sweet, earthy, and citrusy kick, Suze offers a great backbone to strong cocktails…though the French typically sip this aperitif over one ice cube, cut with a little water to diminish the bittersweet bite.
It’s also an excellent addition to the traditional gin and tonic, pulling out the herbal elements of an already refreshing blend. For an even simpler approach, top it off with soda water on the rocks to stay cool in the summer months.