Everything Gourmet

The Sumptuous Saga of Suze

Gentian the plant used in the making of Suze. Photo ©Suze

Suze, that quintessential French liquor that was put on the market 130 years ago in 1889, remains on the cocktail and apéritif menus of France still today. It is an intriguing drink a bitters that is both aromatic and sweet and bitter all at once dressed up in an intriguing and unique color of amber yellow. It draws its unique flavor from the highly aromatic roots of the gentian plant to which other aromatic plants are added in a recipe that remains a closely guarded secret. It all began back in 1885 when Fernand Moureaux inherited his family’s distillery in the Parisian suburb of Maisons-Alfort. He joined forces with the son of his banker, Henri Porte, to create a new spirit, one not revolving around wine, but rather the gentian plant. Moureaux would present the libation at the Universal Exhibition in 1889 and win a gold medal. It became an instant favorite in Parisian cafés.

A traditional bottle of Suze. Photo ©Suze

Suze, the name of a stream in Switzerland close to where he first picked the ingredients for his libation or the name of his sister-in-law, no one seems to be in the know for sure. Today it is elaborated in southern France in Thuir, inside an architectural marvel created by Gustave Eiffel whose eponymous Tower is also celebrating its 130th birthday this year.

An enticing Suze cocktail, a Suze and Tonic garnished with a lemon wedge. Photo ©Suze

And to celebrate its birthday, Suze has asked the contemporary artist Yakes to design nature-oriented labels for the beverage’s bottle. Yakes, an artist committed to bringing nature back into the city designed four foliage filled labels of Parisian and Lyonnais neighborhoods where Suze is widely served in the local cafés. Suze, too has its role to play in the protection of nature.

The foliage filled bottles designed by the artist Yakes for Suze. Photo ©Suze

Gentian is a fascinating plant in and of itself. Suze is made from both wild and cultivated gentian. It is cultivated in two regions in France, in the Auvergne and in the Seine Maritime region and this only since 1970. It is a difficult plant to grow and does not mature until it is 10 to 20-years-old. Its cultivation was initiated by Pernod-Ricard, who owns the brand, and the house remains the only one to master its cultivation today using sustainable methods of agriculture, meaning no irrigation and no fertilizer, the idea being to preserve the stocks in nature. Gentian grows in the mountains of Europe and is generally found in the Jura and the Alps. Gentian is a root and like so many plants used in fashioning liquors it is also used for medicinal purposes, notably for lack of appetite, making it a perfect choice for a before dinner drink.

Suze made with gentian roots planted at least 25 years ago. Photo ©Suze
A horse-drawn Suze vehicle circa 1900. Photo ©Suze

And the distillation of Suze requires time and patience as well, for once the plants have been harvested they are washed, cut and macerated for 12 to 18 months in alcohol before being distilled in a special still. The final step involves the addition of the secret aromatic plants. The limited edition bottles will be available from the last week of November in stores that carry the brand. ©The Gourmet Gazette

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