I’m sticking with bitters but taking things in a slightly different direction today by introducing you to Bonal Gentiane Quina, a French apertif. I know what you’re thinking. Here’s yet another Thirsty Camel obscure ingredient. You may even be rolling your eyes at me just a bit. I see you. Let’s start with the pronunciation: it’s (boh-NAHL jun-tee-AHN kee-nah), but you don’t have to say the whole name. You can shorten it to just Bonal. Created in 1865 by a monk/doctor named Hippolyte Bonal, also known as Brother Raphael, Bonal is an infusion of the bittering agents gentian root and cinchona bark, along with a secret blend of botanical herbs from the Chartreuse Mountains. Bonal shares many characteristics with its Italian amari cousins, but it’s made in a different way. The French bitter spirits have a wine base that’s been fortified with brandy, and so they retain wine-like or brandy-like flavors. You’ll notice this the minute you take your first sip of the Bonal and find sweet raisins and figs. That gives way to the gentian root’s grassy, herbal notes along with some bitterness from the quinine in the cinchona bark. You already know the flavor profile of quinine because it’s what’s in tonic water. Finally, the whole thing finishes up with with just a little bit of a licorice or anise. It’s a very complex spirit that does magical things in cocktails or even when it’s combined very simply with rye whiskey and an orange twist. You can also substitute it for a sweet vermouth like Punt E Mes in cocktail recipes.
Today’s drink is originally from Carlos Yturria at Cafe Claude Marina in San Francisco, but its recipe was posted online by Serious Eats. I found it there and was immediately drawn to how simple of a cocktail it was. The Bonal is combined with lemon and Lillet Rouge, another French fortified and infused wine made mostly from Merlot grapes. There’s lots of sweetness from the Bonal and the Lillet, but the lemon juice has the effect of countering that. I wanted to amp up the bitterness just a little so I added a dash of bitters as you’ll see in my note. It’s light and refreshing, but with very complex flavors, and because of its very pretty red color I can easily see it working as a before dinner drink on Christmas or anytime during the holiday season. That’s why I added the cranberry to the garnish. The Bonal is a little tricky to find; I’d give Benash Liquors in Cherry Hill a try for this one if you’re local, or it can definitely be found online. It would make a wonderful gift for someone who loves cocktails. The Lillet Rouge is widely available. One thing to remember about both these ingredients, as well as fortified wines or vermouths in general, is that they should be refrigerated in order to stay fresh. As a rule of thumb, any spirit under 20% ABV (found on the label) should be kept refrigerated.
Up in Arms (from seriouseats.com)
1½ oz Lillet Rouge
½ oz Bonal Gentiane Quina
½ oz fresh lemon juice
1 dash Black Cloud charred cedar bitters*
Orange and cranberry garnish
Add all the ingredients (except the orange peel and cranberry) to a mixing glass. Fill ⅔ full with ice. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon 30-45 seconds or until very cold. Strain into a cocktail glass using a Julep strainer. Place the orange peel and cranberry onto a cocktail pick and garnish. Enjoy!
*The bitters are not in the original recipe. I added them because there’s sweetness to both the Bonal and the Lillet Rouge and I wanted to step up the bitterness in a very subtle way. Regular aromatic bitters would probably work here too, but I’d been looking for the opportunity to use Black Cloud bitters since I purchased their sampler pack online. Their flavors are all very intriguing and the charred cedar is no exception!