Over the last year we've seen a movement in our drinking culture. The renaissance of before dinner drinking is at hand and our selections are more interesting than ever. We've just come off the high from our new bittersweet vermouth Imbue and the exquisite Calisaya Liqueur. We wait patiently for the wonderful Kina d'Oro from the elusive Tempus Fugit spirits, but in the mean time we've got a real treat from the ever relevant Haus Alpenz. First, a classic that I've been pining for ever since I tasted it while traveling in France after high school, Byrrh Grand Quinquina Aperitif. This incredible little tipple hails from the south central region of Roussillon, where mistelle (grape must) is blended with red AOC Roussillon. This mixture is than steeped with cinchona bark. Created in 1866 by the Brothers Violet, it was sold to Pernod-Ricard in 1977 after a dip in its domestic popularity. A truly unique mixture, this is going to be one of those things that will back the bartenders out there just quiver with excitement. This fabulous blend of flavors melds the bitter, sweet, sour and tannic perfectly.
Next we have something a little more unusual. Hailing from the Massif Central region of France, the oldest Gentiane liqueur being produced continuously in France is Salers Gentiane Liqueur is supposedly BETTER than the ever sought-after Suze. I haven't had Suze in years so I can't say, but if my memory serves me correctly the Salers is much more earthy, vegetal and bitter than the Suze. Strong vanilla & floral bitterness build on the palate. This gives it more potential in terms of its mixability, although it will be most useful to the skilled mixologist. This is one of these aperitifs that might not strike you as so delicious when you nose it or taste it straight, but add some lemon, ice, splash of soda and it's a whole different world. Typically I obsess over perfecting a cocktail with something difficult to use like this, but it works so well as a spritz that I hesitate to experiment. Obviously, you should seek out a cocktail calling for Gentiane liqueur and this should be a fine replacement for anything calling for Suze. Keep any eye out for new aperitifs and vermouths as the summer progresses.