A cocktail with the French apéritif is a delicious way to start Thanksgiving festivities.
This year, I’m hosting a big, old-fashioned, Griswold-style family Thanksgiving. So I’ve been pouring over cooking magazines, blogs and websites for some dishes that will impress (I’m especially excited to make this cranberry sauce with Ruby Port and tangerine). But I also want to make sure to fill guests’ glasses with something memorable when they arrive; a libation that won’t be too heavy or filling, and will serve to whet their appetites for the gluttony that will follow.
Recently, I had an enticing sparkling wine cocktail with Bonal Gentiane-Quina (or Bonal, for short). This French aperitif is made by infusing gentian root, cinchona (quinine) and herbs from the Grande Chartreuse mountains in a base of Mistelle (wine fortified with clear brandy). It’s been produced since 1865, and was re-released to the market a few years ago by Haus Alpenz, whose portfolio also includes other great products like Dolin Vermouth, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram and Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur.
What’s especially fabulous about Bonal is that it’s made to be a meal starter. Years ago, it was known as “ouvre l’appétit”, a beverage to “open the appetite.” It’s traditionally enjoyed neat, on ice with a twist, and can also replace sweet red Vermouth in cocktails. Though it does finish with a bitter note, Bonal also has a touch of honeysuckle, herbs and elderflower on the palate, making it attractive even to those who typically shy away from more overt apéritivi like Campari or Amaro. And 16% ABV keeps it light and approachable.
You can find Bonal peppered on cocktail lists around the District. Adam Bernbach, beverage manager at Proof and Estadio, has been known to play around with it. Right now he’s doing the Leave Home, with reposado tequila, corn whiskey and celery bitters. Bourbon Steak’s Bone Pick cocktail mixes it with Cointreau and iced tea, and Jeff Faile’s Straight to the Top at Fiola combines Bonal with Knob Creek Bourbon, Barolo Chinato, and chocolate and orange bitters.
The sparkling wine cocktail I was digging recently was made at Vinoteca by mixologist Horus Alvarez. He mingles Bonal with Aperol, St. Germain and grapefruit juice, all of which play off Bonal’s floral notes. What makes this drink fitting for Thanksgiving entertaining is that the base can be made in advance and kept chilled. When guests arrive, just pour about 1 1/3 oz. into a chilled flute, top it with sparkling wine and garnish with a thyme sprig. Or keep a pitcher of the base and a bottle of sparkling wine on ice, along with the garnish, a calibrated shot glass and a recipe card, and let guests help themselves.
Bonal Sparkling Cocktail
Recipe courtesy Horus Alvarez, Mixologist, Vinoteca, Washington, D.C.
1/3 oz. Bonal Gentiane-Quina
¼ oz. Aperol
¼ oz. St. Germain
¼ oz. simple syrup
¼ oz. fresh grapefruit Juice
4 oz. dry sparkling wine
Thyme sprig, for garnish
Combine Bonal, Aperol, St. Germain, simple syrup and grapefruit juice in a cocktail shaker, and chill for few minutes. Pour into a chilled Champagne flute and top off with sparkling wine. Garnish with a thyme sprig.
Bonal is available in the District. Once you get your hands on a bottle, here are some other libations to try:
Quin Quina Crusta
Recipe courtesy Leo Robitschek, Eleven Madison Park, New York, NY
This is another great Bonal-based starter. Don’t be confused by the amount of Peychaud’s Bitters in this recipe—it’s not a typo, and lends both a gorgeous ruby hue and an appealing herbal spiciness to the drink. The small amount of Luxardo included keeps that powerful flavor in check; this is a perfectly balanced cocktail.
2 oz. Bonal Gentiane-Quina
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. Peychaud’s Bitters
¼ oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
Lemon peel, for garnish
Rub the outside of a cocktail glass with the juice from a lemon wedge, and then dip in sugar to coat. Chill the glass. Add Bonal, lemon juice, Peychaud’s and Luxardo to a cocktail shaker. Dry shake, and pour into the prepared cocktail glass, over crushed ice. Garnish with the lemon peel.
Recipe courtesy Haus Alpenz
Mixing Bonal with fresh apple cider (not apple juice) is a classic way to enjoy it; it’s also perfect for this time of year.
2 oz. Bonal Gentiane-Quina
2 oz. fresh apple cider
Lemon wedge, for garnish
Add Bonal and apple cider to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Bonal & Rye
Recipe courtesy Todd Smith, San Francisco, CA
Fans of brown spirits will enjoy this mixture of spicy rye, Bonal and citrus. The recipe calls for it to be served up, but straining it over cracked ice works as well. Garnish with an orange peel if you like.
2 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. Bonal Gentiane-Quina
½ oz. Combier or Cointreau
2 dashes orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Add all to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.