Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Quinine, a bitter substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, has a long history in both South American and European herbalism. Also known as "Peruvian Bark" or "Jesuit's Bark", it made the work of missionaries much simpler and the dubious efforts of colonialists safer while it eased the illness of many others. You may already know the medicinal origin of the Gin and Tonic: quinine was discovered to treat and prevent malaria, and the British in Africa would quaff this bitter cocktail to keep the deleterious effects of the disease at bay. These Brits eventually developed quite a taste for this curative, and drink lists have never been the same.

Though the medicinal substance can now be synthesized, quinine has found a comfortable place in cocktails as many have grown to appreciate its distinctive flavor. Yes, the quantity of quinine in modern tonic water wouldn't make a mosquito sneeze - the original stuff must have been overwhelming - but here and in other drinks, it's enough to impart a pleasant mouthwatering quality to an aperitif.

Infused and flavored aperitif wines often use this ingredient to add a bitter kick on the finish. Like many drinks - soda included - vermouth also once was used as a medicinal product; you'll often see (and taste) cinchona bark in vermouth, where along with wormwood, it adds a pleasant balance to the sweetness of the red variety. It also would have once lent an air of credibility to various medicinal claims. Though many vermouth brands keep their botanical list a secret, you'll detect a pleasantly bitter kick in red vermouths such as the moscato-based Casa Martletti Dal 1700 Vermouth Classico and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino.

Bonal Gentiane-Quina, a hyper-specialized, flavored Mistelle wine that also integrates the gentian root - an ingredient rarely seen outside of France and Austria - is a delightful drink that used to be nicknamed "ouvre l'appetit" (the key to the appetite). France has developed an apparent love for cinchona bark, integrating it into a number of specialty drinks. Quinquina is a uniquely french incarnation of this flavor, describing a class of bitter aperitif wines containing this ingredient. These libations, making a delicious drink before meals and a versatile cocktail ingredient, are usually extremely (if satisfyingly) assertive. If you've had the opportunity to sample Cocchi Americano, or happen to remember the profile of Lillet prior to its '80s reformulation, then you've been properly introduced.

Though the Gin and Tonic is an easy standby, we suggest experimenting with some of these other delightfully bitter, quinine-containing drinks. Though you may not cure anything, they're sure to raise your spirits.

Corpse Reviver No. 2
The Corpse Reviver series of cocktails - so named for their purported ability to bring back the hungover "dead", are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Here's our favorite.

3/4 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz Gin
3/4 oz Combier (or, in a pinch, triple sec)
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2 drops Absinthe

Add everything to a mixing glass filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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