Eight Spirits That Will Cure What Ails You (and Upgrade Your Barcart)

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Absinthe, vermouth, genever – these all fall under the category of spirits that used to be medicine. This history-rich sector of booze began as the work of alchemists and today have become prized ingredients on the mixology playground; but Silverlake Wine co-owner George Cossette says some of these spirits don’t need cocktails to shine. In fact, he prefers them neat.
Listen to his conversation with Good Food’s Evan Kleiman below, and keep reading for his notes on his favorite medicinal spirits for serving neat or on ice – no cocktail shaker required.

Chartreuse VEP

Liq_ChartreuseVEPOne of the most compelling liquids on the planet. Supposedly the recipe was presented to the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the early 1600’s. That recipe is supposed to be the work of one or several alchemists. It belongs to the family of liqueurs called genepy, that are common in the region. Some 130 herbs, plants, flowers and other “secret ingredients” are employed in a formula that is given to only two monks. Originally an “elixir for long life.” Aged in barrels for 10 years.

Barolo Chinato G.D.Vajra

Bols Barrel aged Genever 

Gin_BolsGenever is the Ur Gin, differing from its English counterparts in that is is distilled from a malted grain mash, roughly a primitive beer that is the base for distilling whisky. If your genever reminds you a bit of a mild whisky, this is why. Then it is distilled with aromatic herbs, predominantly juniper. It is sometimes aged in wooden barrels for 1to 3 years. Lower in alcohol than London Dry. Often served chilled with a beer chaser. Genever, like is Scandinavian cousin aquavit, is actually a good accompaniment to food.

Anchor Distilling Company Genevieve

Gin_GenevAnchorAn unaged American genever. Distilled from a grain mash of wheat, barley and rye malt. They use the same botanicals as they do in their  highly original Junipero gin. The result is quite different from the Junipero due to the almost whiskey like flavor of the base spirit. Fascinating.

Dolin Genepy des Alpes

Aperitif_GenepyGenepy is a category of liqueurs made in the Alpine regions of Europe. Genepy is another name for wormwood and so takes its name from that plant, but numerous other herbs are employed. The recipes are always closely guarded secrets as is the case here and also with Chartreuse (which falls into the category of genepy) made by the Carthusian monks. The monastery is just down the road from the Dolin facility. Complex herbal notes abound. It should be said that this is not bitter or anis driven like Absinthe. It resembles a milder version of Chartreuse.

Linie Aquavit

Aquavit_LinieAquavit is a Scandinavian distilled spirit flavored with herbs and spices, usually caraway dominates the blend. That’s dictionary. In truth, this is to Norway, what tequila is to Mexico. Put it in the freezer and do shots, chased with beer. It’s fantastic with food, particularly Scandinavian holiday fare like meatballs, pickled herring and gravlax. But please, do not operate heavy machinery after coming in contact with this liquid!

Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

Vermouth_AnticaThis is the original vermouth. It is a wine based spirit, flavored with herbs and spices. Wormwood was one of the original components. (Vermouth comes from the German word, vermouth, or wormwood.) This is not like regular sweet vermouth. There is intensity, complexity and concentration that is unique. This is becoming popular with today’s uber bartenders and mixologists.

Bonal  Gentiane-Quina

Aperitif_BonalBonal is a French aperitif made with a combination of gentian root, herbs from the Chartreuse mountains and quinine (quina), in a fortified wine base. This would be called an amaro, like Averna or Fernet-Branca, if it hailed from Italy. Serve this chilled neat, on the rocks or in cocktails.

Need a quick history lesson? Below Cossette describes the evolution of medicinal spirits:

Fermented beverages infused with medicinal herbs have been around for thousands of years. Remains of ancient Chinese and Egyptian vessels, some dating back to 7000 BC, contain traces of herbs and resins that were present in fermented beverages. A compilation of Egyptian medical texts known as the The Ebers Papyrus contains numerous magic formulas and folk remedies that were prescribed by early healers. The Ebers Papyrus has been dated about 1550 BC but much of the information is considered to date back even further.

One of the most common ingredients contained by ancient Chinese, Egyptian and Greek medicinal beverages is wormwood. Wormwood is, of course, the most notorious ingredient in that most notorious beverage known as Absinthe. Wormwood wine has been prescribed by  proto-Doctor Feelgoods since the dawn of civilization. And although thousands of years would pass before actual Absinthe came along, the groundwork for this and many aromatized wines was initiated.

Much of this work was done by early alchemists and it is noteworthy that the Muslim alchemist named Jabir ibn Hayyan, is widely believed to be the inventor of distillation. This happened some time in the late eighth or early ninth century. Since then mankind has been enthralled with alcoholic potions.

Italian vermouth and chinati evolved from tonics that were produced in local pharmacies. Absinthe and genepy, (Chartreuse being the most well known genepy) evolved from folk remedies in the Alpine region of Europe. Even the creation of gin is attributed to a Dutch physician in the mid-17th century, although it probably had been around for at least 100 years prior to that date.

Find these spirits at Silverlake Wines – 2395 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90039