July 14, 2017
There are times, when the Mercury’s rising and that big ol’ ball of heat in the sky is high overhead, when you want a classy drink, but one that isn’t too tough. A drink that has all kinds of flavor, but without involving any sweat (or little sweat) to make. A drink you could sip after a long day of work while the sun starts its long slow trip down westward, as well as during a family brunch on Sunday when you’re waking up slowly.
Well, this is that drink friend! It covers all those bases, though admittedly it might be best during the Italian aperitif hours, those beautiful moments before dinner (let’s say 5 to 7, though they can arrive a stitch earlier or later) when you want to have something a little effervescent and light, but still with character and taste. All those characteristics come together here with just two ingredients – and a lemon twist – starting with Mionetto Prosecco, specifically the DOC Treviso brut version (though all the Mionetto Proseccos, made since 1887, are worth tracking down). The Treviso brut is nice and dry and crisp, with apple and peach and flowers lingering on the tongue, along with a hint of honey.
Here, it’s mixed with another Italian number, the newest sibling of renowned Galliano (the L’Autentico golden liqueur in the memorable bottle), Galliano L’Aperitivo, just recently becoming available stateside. An amaro, or bitter, it boasts over 50 ingredients, including a bouquet of citrus – orange, bergamot, tangerine, grapefruit, others – and a mix of herbs and spices like cardamom. The flavor’s rich, with all those orange-y citrus notes, herbaliciousness, and a hint of bitter.
Together, these two Italian stalwarts come together beautifully – with lots of fruit flavor, but with a dryness that is swell in summer, when you want to keep the cloying nature of some drinks far away. The color is also rather amazing, adding another welcome touch.
3/4 ounce Galliano L’Aperitivo
4 ounces chilled Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso brut
Lemon twist, for garnish
Ice cube, if wanted
1. Add the L’Aperitivo to a flute or comparable glass. Top with the prosecco.
2. Carefully stir in a manner that brings everything together without being wacky. If your prosecco isn’t really chilled, or if it’s extra hot out, add an ice cube.
3. Garnish with the twist. Give a toast to the sun, and to Italy.
March 22, 2013
So, I’m in Italy. And since it’s springtime, and sunny, I’m sitting outside of Bar Pina (which is outside of Umbertide), one of the finest spots anywhere to sit in the sun and have a beer. I mean, it’s in Italy. Which means that this Friday Night Cocktail isn’t as fancy as others, but I wouldn’t trade it for any of them. And if you want to feel jealous about it all, well, that’s up to you. But a better impulse might be for you to just come on over to Pina your-own-self. It’s pretty darn fun.
PS: Yeah, Dr. Strange drinks with me when I’m at Pina. And you thought it couldn’t get any better.
October 19, 2012
This is quite a continental moment here on the Spiked Punch. First, tonight, like I usually do on the continent, I ate too much. Then, to combat my over-indulging, I had a healthy dose of Elisir di Salvia, a digestif I made from a recipe taken out of a simply-named book, Tisane, Liquori and Grappe. I have no idea who it’s by, but it’s from the Demera Company and is Italian (which means I translated the recipe. Yeah, I do everything for you. But you deserve it). I picked it up in a little tucked away bookstore in Sansepolcro’s historic center, called Arca Dei Libri. Nice place, really. Only blocks from the can’t-miss-it restaurant Fiorintino. Anywho, Elisir di Salvia is a curious mix of stuff, and the taste reflects it: herb and spice sweetness at the beginning, mellowing Marsala middle, totally different backend flavor and kick. At first, I wasn’t sold, but now I think it’s a weird kind of genius drink. And yes, I felt better after having it after eating too much. Oh, when in the jar cooling its heels, it looks like this:
Elisir di Salvia
1 liter Marsala
1 cup fresh sage leaves
1 orange rind
2 cups high proof vodka or grain alcohol
1/2 cup warm water
1.6 cups sugar
1. Add the Marsala, sage, and orange to an airtight glass container airtight. Let sit for 10 days to two weeks. Shake at least once a day.
2. Dissolve the sugar in the water to make a syrup, let cool, and then add it and the vodka.
3. After 24 hours of rest (or a week, if you’re lazy like me), filter and transfer to a glass bottle. Take 1 shot from the liqueur in all cases of difficult digestion.
March 30, 2012
Sometimes, I’m almost too sad to write more than one sentence. Or six. This is one of those times, because we recently finished our last bottle of Bindolo, the wine from Donini we drank a fair amount of when we lived in Italy. You can read more about Bindolo and Donini in this past post, and then get on a plane and go pick some up (and tell Diego hello for us). Me, I’m going to look at the picture and tear up (though the sadness is partially offset by the fact that we shared that last bottle with pals Rebecca, who makes the great Deluxe jams and cocktail syrups, and Eric, who owns the best bike shop in Seattle, JRA. At least we had that last bottle with awesome folks).
May 23, 2011
If you haven’t read Part 1 of our Branca Distiller tour, well, do so now. It talks lots about company history, the Collezione Branca, the Branca philosophy of novare serbando (renew but conserve), and much more. Go read it. Okay, are you back? Now we’re ready for Part 2, in which we actually get to walk around the distillery and see where the magic happens. Still with our tour guides Elisa, Marco, and Valeria, we last stopped at the Carpano area of the museum, where we learned more about Branca’s purchase of Carpano Antica (and the full Carpano family of vermouths), had a quick drink of Carpano Antica, and then got ready to hit the distillery proper. But first, as we’re walking into delicate areas, we had to suit up (attractive, aren’t we?):
Check out the wonderful Carpano ad in the background, too. Yet another piece of Branca-related advertising I wish I had framed in my house. After suiting up, we started by going through a few doors into the Borghetti coffee liqueur room. Now, here’s where I have to admit one downside for you, dear readers, in this Part 2 of the tour post. We couldn’t, in most areas of the distillery, take pictures. As mentioned in Part 1, having delicious liqueurs, vermouths, and amaros means that folks are always wanting to know how you make them. Which means even someone as un-spy-ish as me (though I could be a spy, I suppose–I have that look, right?) can’t snap snaps. Borghetti, if you don’t know (and you might not, as it’s sadly not readily available in the States) is the coffee liqueur made by the Branca company. It’s a staple in Italy (all the everyday bars/cafes we’d visit had it, usually in both big bottles and in these small, 3-inch-ish, portable bottles), and I’m not 100% sure why we don’t have it in the U.S., as it’s scrumptious. Normally, I’m not either a big coffee liqueur fan or a big coffee drinker (a lot of coffee liqueurs taste ickily chemical to me), but I really love the Borghetti, and after seeing where it’s made, I know why. It only contains coffee (freshly roaster and made there), liquor, and a natural sweetener. Walking into the room where it’s made is somewhat like walking into the best coffee roaster inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, as there’s a perfect sweet/coffee aroma—which matches Broghetti’s taste. Here’s what the bottle looks like, if you want to scoop some up on your travels:
From there, we saw where the ingredients in Fernet Branca are treated during production (where the secret processes mentioned in Part 1 happen), including the big iron pot (pictured in Part 1) where the spices and more are stirred up. Amazing stuff, really, as it’s partially mechanized, but still there are always workers in attendance, watching over the process. We next went to perhaps my favorite part of the whole tour (well, just hanging out with our awesome tour guides was my favorite part, but this coming up was a close second), the cask where Stravecchio Branca spends time before bottling. Stravecchio Branca is the brandy made by the Branca company, and is another item I wouldn’t mind seeing more of over here (again, it’s in most bars/cafes in Italy and is a really good, full-bodied brandy). Here’s the bottle if you ever want to try some and you see it:
But the cask (or flask, as they referred to it as) in question we could take pics of, but we didn’t have a wide enough angle lens to do it justice. See, it’s the biggest cask in Europe, and was built over a two month time period way back in 1892. And it’s massive and astounding to stand in front of:
Stravecchio was originally called “Vieux Cognac,” but they had to change the name due to the Cognac rules (about it having to be made in the Cognac region of France, that is). Today, the brandy spends some time in other casks, but each batch spends a least some time in this massive cask–which is never empty, as some is always left in to ensure that the brandy stays consistent (a nice little touch). On the back of the ginormous cask, there’s a chart that tells how full it is (somewhat like the little marks made on the wall as kids get taller), alongside a little chalkboard notepad (which is alongside my head):
My favorite part of the photo (and another reason why I loved this cask so much) is right above the “B100” where the cask looks like it’s sweating. This is a slight oozing out that happens, about which Marco said, “it is crying.” He even wiped some off on a fingertip to taste, and encouraged us to do the same–which I, naturally did. It was super-brandy-charged, and I dug it so much I went back for more (hey, I have a hard time seeing anything cry). After the Stravecchio, we wandered down into the cellars, where we viewed wooden cask after wooden cask, rows of them (all lovely, by the way), first more brandy (they start here in smaller casks before moving to the biggest cask in Europe), then the wooden casks Fernet Branca is aged within. Fernet Branca has to be aged at least a year, and the brandy for three, so you can imagine that there are tons of casks (not to mention that Branca Menta is also made with aged Fernet Branca, on to which is added pure peppermint oil, sweetening, and love). All these hundreds of casks, the giant cask, the production facilities upstairs, the museum from Part 1, and the offices live in this one building, in the center of Milan, a bustling city. There’s something almost otherworldly about it, especially when wandering through the building’s many rooms and passages. One could easily get lost down here—you’d never go thirsty, luckily. Also luckily, we didn’t have to worry about getting lost, because we were with our friendly and knowledgeable (and fun) tour guides. Check them out, aren’t they great:
After seeing the casks, and saying our goodbyes, we walked out in Milan craving a little Fernet Branca or Branca Menta. Of course, we had a four-and-a-half hour drive ahead of us, so the cravings just became sharper, until we were back in our home Italian neighborhood, where we could indulge our Branca thirst at Bar Fizz. Thanks again Fratelli Branca Distillerie, we had a great time.
May 20, 2011
Back in April (when still living in Italy), wife Nat and I took the road north from our Italian pre-tirement home, driving up to Milan so we could make a visit to the Fratelli Branca Distillerie, where Fernet Branca and many other delicious drinkables are made. When we showed up in the morning for our tour, we weren’t sure at all what to expect—a little talking, a little walking around the building, we just didn’t know. But it ended up being an amazing day, where we learned a ton and had some fun (huge props to Laura Baddish for helping to set it up, too). Once past the guards (serious liqueurs always need guards at the gates, cause secret formulas are too tempting to weaker minded individuals), we were met by three swell Italian folks: Elisa, Marco, and Valeria. Marco gave most of the tour, with tons of expert translating (his English is better than our Italian, but not by enough to carry on in-depth conversations) and more touring by Elisa, with Valeria filling in the cracks.
The tour started in the Collezione Branca, which is a museum created by the Branca family, a museum in the distillery (the aromas of Fernet Branca and other drinks waft up as you wander the museum), collecting Branca historical items, memorabilia, and more. It really serves as a tangible history of the company in many ways, and was full of intriguing artifacts. Right at the beginning are portraits of those family members who were there at the beginning, with a picture of Bernardino Branca in the middle:
Bernardino was the original creator of the famous Fernet Branca, developing the formula with Dr. Fernet, a Swedish doctor, to assist malaria and cholera patients. With this aim, it was first tested in hospitals (where it was shown to help patients) and first sold in local farmacias, or pharmacies (quick aside: Italian pharmacists have a lot more leeway than those here in the States, in prescribing and diagnosing). The first cask that Bernardino made this herbal health mixture in is also in the museum, and lives right under his portrait:
When walking through the museum, we learned more about the Branca family, which still runs the company today (the head of the company, Count Niccolo Branca, is the 5th generation of the family to make Fernet Branca). The family focus isn’t just with the Brancas, either, as our tour guide Marco is the 4th generation of his family to work at Branca (he’s been there since 1972). This lengthy dedication and devotion is quite remarkable, and shows in the end results: the liqueurs. There are lots more interesting family stories, such as those about Maria Scala, who married the third son of Bernardino and eventually became one of the first women in charge of a large company, and who originally developed the focus on continually creative Branca advertising—the company has always been on the forefront of advertising and advertising trends. One of my favorite, and a somewhat obscure, piece of marketing is this Branca suitcase:
I would carry one of those in an instant (if you have one you’re tired of, please let me take it off your hands). The museum also has loads of production implements from the past, and some that were used in the past but are still utilized today, which points towards the Branca philosophy of novare serbando, or renew but conserve. For one example, Marco showed us these giant iron pots for herb maceration and heating, which are still used today, though the stirring is done mechanically instead of by hand:
The pots were at one point stirred with both iron and wood stirrers (depending on the spices), and as the iron sticks were “cleaning” the pots, many thought that Fer-net came from some rendition of “clean iron.” Which is, I have to say, a great story. Fernet Branca gets its signature bitter, herbal, rich taste from an wide assortment of herbs, roots, spices, and other ingredients, and there’s a giant, mind-blowing, round table in the museum where you can see the complete layout of ingredients:
I knew (hey, I’ve done a little research before) that there were around 40 ingredients, and that the list included such far-reaching items as gentian root, rhubarb, myrrh, cinchona bark, galanga, saffron, and others, but I learned while there that all the products used are completely natural, and that all the suppliers have to sign a code of sorts, that says the products were obtained in a non-exploitive way. Another (and this was fascinating to me, but hey, I’m interested in odd things) fact I learned is that the real secret in the secret recipe for Fernet-Branca is how the ingredients are treated in production. Only the family knows, and the Count himself still does the treating (which means he has to go to the other distillery, in Argentina, regularly). Cool, isn’t it? After spices, we got to see tons of hip old Fernet-Branca ads, including the first one to use the eagle-over-the-world logo:
This logo was created in 1895, due to the large amount of Fernet Branca imitations being shuffled out of back alleys—always look for the eagle bringing the Branca over the world to ensure you get the real thing. There are a number of side rooms along the museum’s main path, where you can get a better picture of how Branca workers worked back in the day (as they say), with an herbalist’s room, chemist’s room:
and more. The museum is persistent in remembering not just what was made, but those who made it—not to mention that the museum itself was built by current workers at the plant. Again, there’s that whole atmosphere of devotion to people and product, to stories and to history. After looking over the production process, the spices, and hearing about the history contained within, we walked into a room full of bottles, whole tables of old Fernet Branca bottles, and bottles of other products brought out by the company, including older bottles of Branca Menta (a minty-er and sweeter version of Fernet Branca released in 1965), bottles of Carpano Antica (Branca bought the Carpano company years ago in a particularly astute moment—Carpano Antica being the first Italian vermouth, and one still made partially by hand, and the Carpano company also making Italian vermouth Punt e’ Mes), and more bottles. There’s even a whole cabinet of Fernet Branca impersonators (I suppose success always leads to imitation):
Then we stopped in the bar room (of course the museum was going to have a bar at some point), talked a bit more about advertising, had some Carpano Antica (which I loved even before stopping, and which I was happy to have a glass of even at 11:30 AM), and saw a host of happening ads for the non-Fernet-Branca-Branca brands. If the tour ended now, I would have been more than happy–but we still had the actual distillery to see! Which I’ll talk more about in Part 2, so come on back. Oh, first, check out this sweet and colorful Punt e’ Mes ad (one of about, say, 96, that I wished I had on my walls at home):
November 29, 2010
I swear, this has to be a drink already, with another name. It’s very classically minded, and an obvious relative to drinks such as that which will not be named (but which ends in “tini”). It does use rose’ vermouth, which isn’t as readily available in the U.S. as one would hope (as you might expect, it’s neither as dry as French vermouth or as herbal as Italian vermouth, or dry and sweet vermouth respectively, and light on the tongue like its namesake wine), so it might not yet be named. However, rose’ vermouth has been available then and now, maybe moreso then, even, so some variation of this (maybe with a different bitters, since the Bitter Truth, even with their classical leanings, haven’t been around that long) seems like it has to have been around. I’d check the library, but the library is in Seattle and I’m in the Italy. Some bartender or bar writer out there will, I’m sure correct me. But until then, I’m going with Da Molto Tempo, and having it lots:
1-1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce rose vermouth
1 dash Bitter Truth Aromatic bitters
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with cracked ice. Add the gin, vermouth, and bitters. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.
PS: For those inquisitive ones: it means “a long time ago.”
October 10, 2010
This is somewhat of a (or almost exactly a) duplicate of a post on my Italy blog, which is called Six Months In Italy. But I figure the Spiked Punch readers may not have found that blog yet, and may be interested in the bar tools I lugged in my luggage recently. Oh, as a backdrop—I’ve moved to Italy, to be closer to local Amaros, Strega, Fernet Branca, and the other Italian boozes I love. Which is why this blog has been even lighter than normal lately. I just got here (here now being middle Italy. For gosh sake, go read the Italy blog if you want to know more or I’ll go on all day), and these are the tools I brought with me.
Oh, by the way, it’s not that I think I couldn’t make slurpable drinks during the next seven months without the following seven drink-making devices (at least I think I could), but I’d just feel so naked behind the bar (or at the counter). And not in the good “making-drinks-naked way.” So, here’s a look at some of what was in my suitcase.
1 and 2: Cocktail Shaker and Jigger
This is my most-utilized cocktail shaker, the WMF Manhattan stainless steel cobble-style shaker. I love both how it fits me, and how it has a little elegance in its lines. It also packs up nice, and since I’ve used it almost every day for the last 10 years, isn’t something I’d leave behind. The jigger alongside it keeps me honest on measuring, and also keeps the shake company.
3: Fine Strainer
A good fine strainer for drinks that contain fresh juice (which should be the only juice you use naturally). I wanted to bring a juicer to go with, but decided at the last minute that squeezing would work as long as I took the fine strainer to ensure no chunky-ness gets into the drink (or my teeth).
4: A Hawthorne Strainer
This is the Oxo strainer, very portable, and a necessary extra just in case the built-in strainer on my shaker gets overwhelmed by the amount of drinks being made, or the fruit in them, or anything else. Can also work if I decide to use another shaker when out and about. A generally handy item to have, and small enough to not worry about packing.
5 and 6: Pug Muddler and Stir Spoon
This and all Pug muddlers was made by hand with care by a gentleman named Chris Gallagher. It’s made from Mexican Rosewood (or Bocote), and is a substantial and beautiful thing, which between us, I paid probably more than I should have for—but look at it! Pug muddlers aren’t available in stores, but you can email Chris directly if you want one (and you should), at jcgallagher08 @ hotmail . com (removing the spaces). The stir spoon is one of many I have, but needed for stirring drinks.
7: Ice Cube Trays
I can admit it: I am addicted to these decently-sized perfectly square ice cubes. I can’t be completely happy without them (okay, okay, that’s going overboard. But I am awfully fond of them, and how them both melt slowly and crack perfectly when smacked with the Pug Muddler, making them the ideal ice for the home bartender). Mine are made in the the Tovolo Perfect Cube silicone ice cube tray.