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Mar 16, 2011 09:58 PM

School me on aperitifs, digestifs, and fancy medicinals

I love herbal and citrusy flavors. My spirit of choice is gin, and I'm fascinated by everything it works with - LIllet, St Germain, Luxardo, Pernod, etc. There are so many other Euromedicinals out there that I've never tried, and I have no idea what they really taste like - Fernet, Cynar, etc. What do you consider the essentials? What do they taste like? Are there any good websites or other resources that work through this category?

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  1. My meal closer is Chartreuse Verde VEP, drink it neat. 108 proof. Will give you a perspective on most medicinals as has 20-30 herbs in it.

    1. It worthwhile researching or going to a good liquor store. I knowledgeable salesperson can be a big help. Alas, you may find them hard to come by.

      Wikipedia has articles about most aperitifs / digestifs, although some articles provide interesting facts, but not much on what the flavor is actually like. You will also find articles about these ingredients on Kindred Cocktails, under Resources / Ingredients, as well as suggested recipes that use the ingredient. (Chowhound terms of use prevent me from providing a direct link.)

      A big divide in the category is how bitter they are, if at all. If you enjoy bitter flavors, then Campari is king, at least in terms of popularity. It is, however, a strong flavor and you might enjoy Aperol first. By itself, it has (to me) an unpleasantly juvenile orange soda pop flavor, but when mixed with a bit of citrus and some of your beloved gin, transforms into a complex citrus mildly bitter flavor. I love the stuff.

      Cynar would come after Campari, probably. I love it, but it is bitter. Fernet is both bitter and strongly menthol flavored. It is most definitely an acquired taste -- probably the most challenging of the commonly available amari (plural for amaro -- bitter liqueurs). I would not start there unless you are the sort to jump off the tallest cliff first.

      For something less challenging, you might try Clement Creole Shrubb. This "shrubb" (unrelated to the colonial shrubb of the past which combines fruit juice with vinegar to preserve it). Creole Shrubb is a rum-based liqueur flavored with bitter orange. Use it wherever you might use another orange liqueur, although it obviously goes best in rum-based cocktails.

      For herbal flavors, both yellow and green chartreuse are strongly herbal, but not minty or bitter. They both love gin. The yellow is sweeter and more accessible. They are not really interchangeable in recipes (except that if you substitute them, you may get a good, but different drink). I have not had the VEP, but it is rather pricey to mix with.

      I hope this helps get you started. It is a very exciting area of flavor.
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      1. Amaro is my essential digestive/medicinal, kind of like Jagermeister. Ramazzotti is is a pretty accessible amaro, with a little orange flavor if you like herbal and citrusy, but it is also bitter.

        I honestly do not like Fernet Branca that much, the mint turns me off.

        9 Replies
        1. re: jaykayen

          Bump... Love to know more on this topic. More choices... Ramazzotti seems to be liked.

          1. re: jaykayen

            Ramazzotti is fairly widely available and popular. Some find that it has a cola-like flavor that is accessible. It is full if pie-spice flavors. It is moderately bitter and moderately sweet. While it may be sipped neat, it also is excellent in cocktails.

            One of my favorite cocktails combines equal parts Ramazzotti with Bourbon, Campari, and Lemon. The acid in the Lemon goes a long way to taming the bitter. It is a variation of the Paper Plane called simply the Paper Airplane. I got the recipe from chowhound pb n foie, but I don't know the creator. (The original is good too, and more accessible, but it uses the more expensive and harder-to-find Amaro Nonino, along with Aperol.)

            "Ramazzotti is a digestif amaro invented by Ausano Ramazzotti in 1815 in Milan. It is made of a secret blend of 33 herbs and roots, and uses no artificial color. Today, Ramazzotti is owned by the Pernod Ricard group.

            Ramazzotti is dark brown in color and fairly opaque. It has a strong root beer-citrus aroma and has a nice balance between bitter and sweet. At 60 proof it's a bit higher proof than most Amari. They also make a Menta version and a Fernet, though they look to be quite difficult to track down.

            Ramazzotti is fairly versatile in cocktail applications, though it can overpower a drink quickly as Fernet Branca can." -- Kindred Cocktails on Ramazzotti

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            1. re: EvergreenDan

              Thank you very much EvergreenDan... what's the best-for-the-money digestif out there? I'll be picking up a bottle of Ramazzotti this week byt the way and start to experiment and figure which is good served neat after a meal. I can tell by people's talk of Fernet that it's not my style and it's like drinking cough medicine.

              1. re: EvergreenDan

                Ramazzotti is well priced. Averna is a few dollars more, but somewhat similar. I find it has a pie-spice and raisins flavor. Meletti (the Amaro, they make other things too) is inexpensive and different. Oddly I get the gestalt of chocolate out of it, but others don't. (Try a Meletti Flip with Lemon -- fantastic if you aren't opposed to eggs.)

                These are all in the spicy/brown school of amari. There are also the bright/citrusy ones like Campari, Aperol, and Zucca (and I might even toss Cynar in there). These all mix well. There are tons of Campari recipes.

                I'd put Fernet Branca in the harder-to-like category. I've grown to appreciate it, but the overwhelming menthol is a challenge. (My Bernet Frankenstein is actually one of my favorite cocktails to linger over.)

                For sipping neat, it's hard to beat Amaro Nonino. It is grappa based, however, and about twice the price of some of the others. It is also less sweet, which makes it easier for me to enjoy it alone. Others enjoy the combination of bitter and a syrupy sweetness.

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                1. re: EvergreenDan

                  I appreciate your advice EvergreenDan. I may look into Meletti. I'm looking for a stand-alone drink. Amaro Nonino seems like for me except in wallet.

                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                    Nick - All of these digestifs are intended to be sipped. I don't think you'll go wrong, so long as you understand it will be sweet.

                    1. re: EvergreenDan

                      Hey Evergreen, about a week ago I got Ramazotti... been sipping it. With ice it smells like a cola, but doesn't taste like one obviously. I don't know how the others in the category taste but it's okay. It's not good or bad. I sip it but feel neutral about it which is good I guess because some liquors are terrible. All in all I'll probably keep buying it.

                      1. re: Nickmerill

                        don't forget Punt e Mes...not as drinkable straight as Averna or Nonino but cheaper than either and you can make an Americano with it (add campari and soda water)

                      2. re: EvergreenDan

                        Try mixing with it. Good stuff.

                        Personally, I don't drink digestifs usually. I try hard to not over-eat so as to not need them for digestion. I do enjoy aperitifs and before-dinner cocktails. After dinner, it's likely nothing or maybe some Scotch or other sip-worthy thing.

                        The aperitif bitters (Campari, Aperol, Cynar, Gran Classico) are delicious by themselves, or with a bit of citrus and maybe soda. I find most digestifs too sweet to sip, except for Nonino. I haven't tried it, but cutting Ramazzotti with some gin or bourbon might give a nice digestif. It would raise the prove, dilute the sugar, and still have some good flavor. Just an idea....

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