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Elements: Byrrh Grand Quinquina

“Wow, I haven’t seen that stuff since the Nixon administration,” said a baby boomer family friend one afternoon at an upscale Italian eatery in Greenwich Village. She was pointing to a bottle of Byrrh Grand Quinquina, a drink she remembered from the ’60s that had all but disappeared by the ’80s but that’s now reclaiming its spot on the back bar.

Byrrh’s return to American bars was a long time coming. It was first created in the 1860s by Pallade and Simon Violet, who owned a textile business in Thuir, France. Aperitifs were all the rage at the time, and the brothers wanted to bottle their own made with wines from their local Roussillon region. Problem was, many entrepreneurs had the same idea. Still, the brothers saw an opportunity: By adding cinchona bark to a mix of spices and botanicals, using a base of mistelles (unfermented grape must fortified with neutral spirit) and wines made from Grenache Noir, Muscat d’Alexandrie and Macabeu, the aperitif could be sold as quinine tonique hygienique (“health tonic”). This gave the aromatized, fortified wine a slightly bitter aftertaste, reminding some drinkers of Italian amari, though Byrrh’s closer relatives include other aperitif wines, such as vermouth.

A series of ubiquitous poster campaigns alternated Byrrh’s depiction between a restorative tonic and a cocktail hour delight. In the ads, it was adored by wealthy socialites in posh settings. In another famous print, a precious stash of Byrrh is lovingly embraced by cartoon cats. “Byrrh’s global sales were once so large that its owner built a palace-like production facility designed by Gustav Eiffel,” says Eric Seed, founder of Haus Alpenz, Byrrh’s current importer. Seed began pursuing Byrrh for Alpenz in 2010, soon after reintroducing another favorite aperitif wine, Cocchi Americano. “Like Americano, the aromatized wine category of quinquina had disappeared from the U.S. market, and Byrrh was the most famous of the category.”

Today, Byrrh is often enjoyed in the classic café style—on the rocks with an orange twist, or a splash of soda—but bartenders increasingly reach for it when they crave a juicy-jammy ingredient with a sturdy backbone. “When creating The Grand Leopold, we knew the bright, ripe nature of Byrrh would complement and lift the darker, richer flavors of Cognac,” says Alex O’Keefe, bar manager at The Hive in the 21C Museum Hotel in Bentonville, Arkansas. “The Byrrh allows it to still be the star of the show.”

Cold Byrrrh

This 50/50 Martini variation is meant to be served nice and cold, hence the extra ‘r’ in the name.

1 1⁄2 oz. London dry gin (Hayman’s recommended)
1 1⁄2 oz. Byrrh
1 dash orange bitters

Tools: barspoon, strainer
Glass: coupe or Nick and Nora
Garnish: lemon twist

Stir all the ingredients with ice to chill, then strain into a chilled glass and garnish.

John Wabeck, Poulet Bleu and DeShantz restaurant group, Pittsburgh

Vieux Chapeau (Old Hat)

Byrrh stands in for sweet vermouth in this smoky variation on the Vieux Carré.

1 oz. Armagnac
1 oz. mezcal (Café du Pays uses Del Maguey Vida)
1 oz. Byrrh
1⁄4 oz. Bénédictine
1 dash salt
Absinthe or pastis, for rinse

Tools: barspoon, strainer
Glass: rocks

Stir all the ingredients except the absinthe or pastis with ice until chilled. Rinse a chilled glass with absinthe or pastis, discarding the excess, then strain the drink into the prepared glass (or serve over a large ice cube).

Heather Mojer, Café du Pays, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Grand Leopold

Byrrh adds depth and balance to this bright blend of Cognac, lemon and curaçao.

1 1⁄2 oz. Cognac (The Hive uses Pierre Ferrand 1840)
3⁄4 oz. Byrrh
1⁄4 oz. dry curaçao
1⁄4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon peel

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: coupe

Shake all the ingredients with ice to chill, then strain into a chilled coupe. Twist a lemon peel over the drink to release the citrus oils, then discard.

Alex O’Keefe, The Hive at 21C Museum Hotel, Bentonville, Arkansas

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