Rare, little known and local spirits can bring cocktail experimenters to excited state. Often they have a peculiar taste. Definitely they add special ethnic flavour to well-known drinks. Also they help to obtain important experience in work with new spirits and understanding how to use them properly in cocktails.
Current «Mixology Monday» event is about similar topic. «Favourite niche spirits» is the theme for it, and the present MixMo hoster Filip from Adventures in Cocktails wants to see us making cocktails based on the «niche spirits» which are not from «Big Six»: whisk(e)y, rum, gin, vodka, tequila and Cognac.
Well, what a spirit to choose? Calvados, Armagnac, genever, kirschwasser, akvavit? Due to my Russian origin I should prefer samogon, an old Russian spirit which later became similar to American moonshine, but since ancient times is produced by many home distillers with a good quality – better than most vodka brands of today.
But recently I was in experiments with Bavarian apple and pear schnaps so the story how I got it was fresh in my memory. Once I’ve bought it in a souvenir shop when I visited a small village in Bavarian Alps. Also there was transparent spirit in a bottle with blue flowers on the label. «Oh, Enzian Schnaps (gentian schnaps)» – venerable shop owner told me when I’ve pointed at the bottle and asked what a spirit is it. Certainly I’ve bought it too!
Schnaps is a type of eau de vie produced in Germany and Austria mainly from fruits. As far as I know, gentian eau de vie is quite unusual thing even for Germany. It tastes bitter and a little tart. Aftertaste is similar to the taste but has an astringent finish. It slightly reminds of Campari flavour but the latter is more complex and richer thanks to its formula including much more herbal components.
Gentian schnaps’ flavour is simpler and straighter and because of its origin that’s a perfect aperitif.
It’s distilled from the fermented mash containing chopped gentian root, yeast and water. According to old technology, two distillations take place before obtained spirits filled in oak casks for further maturation.
I’m not sure that this schnaps is my «favourite niche spirit». Honestly, I can’t choose my favourite strong alcohol but at the moment I’m interesting in German rare spirits so let it be one of them.
Initially my cocktail was just a Negroni variation. But Campari already has gentian in its composition so I was forced to exclude it from the recipe. Another Italian bitter liqueur Amaro Ramazzotti has became Campari’s substitute.
With these changes, the cocktail has turned to different one – in taste and in appearance. So I’ve gave it new name. It has became «Transalpine Cocktail» as it contains two ingredients from Italy which lies on the south from Alps and one ingredient from Bavaria which is to north of Alps.
- 30 ml gentian eau de vie (Hoermann Gebirgs-Enzian Schnaps),
- 30 ml sweet vermouth (Cinzano Rosso),
- 10 ml Amaro Ramazzotti,
- 1 dash orange bitters (Angostura).
Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist and drop orange peel in the glass.
Here schnaps works mostly on the background adding a lot of bitter and dry notes to the powerful sweet and spicy mix of Italian vermouth and amaro.
Vermouth flavour is most prominent in the start. Ramazzotti enriches it with his thick bittersweet bouquet. Gentian taste appears on the palate and a moment later it turns to silky bitter touch that combines well with vermouth’s spiciness and masks its excessive sweetness.