“A very rich garden” is how Lee Edwards, sales representative at rare and traditional liquor importer Haus Alpenz, describes the Alps. Highlighting the mountain range’s bounty of fruits, nuts, flowers, and herbs is a diverse selection of spirits and liqueurs produced in the region’s eight countries, from which the importer curates its selection.
Other than where they’re produced and the provenance of their ingredients, little else links the beverages in the “Alpine” category, which ranges from amari to aperitifs, wines, spirits, and liqueurs. For Edwards, the category’s rich, multiple-century history makes it worthy of our attention, and now might just be the perfect time for Americans to embrace these drinks.
As the nation’s collective palate skews ever more accepting of bitter drinks, evidenced by the popularity of Campari and West Coast IPAs, American drinkers have never been better primed for the astringent flavors typically found in Alpine spirits and liqueurs. However, the principal champions of these beverages are mainly bartenders, who prize them for the complex profile they add to cocktails.
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By adding alpine liqueurs to their cocktail menus, bars from French ski resort Courchevel to the Plaza Hotel are cluing consumers in on this vast and versatile category.
“Alpine liqueurs are a pretty important part of our bar program at My Friend Duke,” Zachary Pease, owner and beverage director of the Manhattan craft cocktail bar, says. “The two most common we use are Braulio [amaro] and Suze [liqueur]. I love the bold bitterness of Braulio and its versatility in cocktails or just on its own after dinner.”
First produced in Switzerland using the bitter gentian root, Suze is no longer technically an “Alpine” liqueur, as it’s now produced in Thuir, on the border of France and Spain. But it displays the category’s hallmark bitter, herbal flavors. “Suze can be pretty polarizing but I personally love it,” Pease says. “It’s that lovely dry bitter that you need in cocktails, be it a White Negroni or something shaken with some citrus.”
The broad diversity of the category awaits exploration among professional bartenders and home mixologists alike. Here are five traditional Alpine spirits and liqueurs, and how to use them.
Dolin Génépy le Chamois
Hailing from the Savoy region of France, this historic herbal liqueur is flavored with a range of Alpine ingredients, most notably génépy, which is also referred to as “mountain sage.” Génépy liqueur has a refreshing botanical character and a sweet and spiced licorice finish. Ubiquitous during French après-ski, it is traditionally served on the rocks or in a highball with tonic water.
Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps
Made from the young, freshly picked cones of Arolla Stone pine trees, Zirbenz has been made by Austrian family-distillery Josef Hofer since the end of the 18th century. As one might expect, it has a rich and concentrated pine flavor. Mixed in cocktails, Zirbenz adds aromatic complexity and can be used like blanc vermouth. It famously featured in the late Gary Regan’s recipe for an Alpine Martini.
Named after a mountain in the Italian Dolomites, Pasubio is an outlier in the broader amaro category because of its fruit-forward character, which is drawn from the use of blueberry in its preparation. Smoke and pine notes complete its flavor profile, which is rich yet easy-drinking, and delicious. Drink on its own after dinner or serve in cocktails with bourbon, rye, or brandy.
Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
Every summer since the early 20th century, the Austrian Purkhart family has picked fresh green walnuts before steeping them for several months in grape brandy, along with a range of spices and alpine botanicals. The resulting walnut liqueur, known variably as Noix in France and Nocino in Italy, has a rich profile that balances nutty and sweet notes. Nux Alpina is best served in coffee, cream, or egg drinks — around the holidays, it’s a worthy addition to egg nog— or mixed with aged spirits or sweet, fortified wines.
Blume Marillen Apricot Eau-de-Vie
Also produced by the Purkhart family, this apricot fruit brandy incorporates all the flavors and aromas of an alpine orchard, with a floral bouquet and prolonged tart apricot finish. In Austria, it’s sipped neat or mixed with sparkling wine. Fun fact: Blume Marillen is also included in the house French 75 in New York’s Plaza Hotel.