November 4, 2021
Gravlingsommar. After the late summer/early fall storms have brought cooler weather, the sun comes out to crisp the leaves, and badgers work steadily to fill their larder, knowing of the coming winter. It is the best part of the autumn season: the sun warms the days and the trees sparkle, their leaves a kaleidoscope of fall color. It is not yet so cold that you need hot toddies and mulled cider, but you’re looking for a warming alcohol content and a rich flavor to compliment the autumn air.
Aromatized wines are the answer! Known alternatively as amaro, vermouth, bitter, digestivo, or aperitivo, these are the ideal beverages for this time of year. Whatever style you choose, whatever terminology you employ, at their most basic, they 1) tend to be higher proof than wine or beer, but lower proof than spirits (most are 15-35% abv) and 2) are made from a base of wine, fortified with neutral spirit that has been infused with a veritable witch’s brew of leaves, flowers, fruit, herbs, roots, and/or bark. As such, aromatized wines offer the full spectrum of potential flavors with an incredible depth and complexity. They can range in flavor from floral to bitter, mild to intense, fruity to savory, and sweet to very much not. They all tend to have an herbaceous character, but do not let any associated concerns, misgivings, or presuppositions keep you from some casual Gravlingsommar experimentation. I offer you three examples that are lovely introductions to the style, and perfect to ward off the coming winter chill.
Bordiga ‘Vermouth Bianco di Torino’ Bordiga, IT [18% abv]
Classically speaking, a vermouth has wormwood amid the botanical blend. While there is not enough to make you hallucinate, they can be extremely interesting. The base of this white vermouth is a blend of Northern Italian white wines – including the lush and floral Moscato. Each botanical flavoring is macerated separately in neutral grain alcohol for optimal extraction of the essential oils. Botanicals include nutmeg, coriander, fennel seed, Artemisia, gentian root, and gentian flower. Though some of these are imported (nutmeg famously does not thrive in the Italian Alps), the gentian root and flowers are hand harvested (not cultivated) from wild plants growing in the Alps near the winery. Once extraction is complete, the blend is steeped into the wine base. Finally, the vermouth is balanced with sugar and then bottled.
This Vermouth would be perfect as the first trees are starting to turn. There is a brightness on the finish that reminds me of that sunny day that breaks the first cold streak of the fall. Classic Gravlingsommar: the kind of day that doesn’t really need a flannel (but you might still wear one just because you can).
Lawless Distilling ‘Heirloom Pineapple Amaro’ Minneapolis, MN [30% abv]
The term ‘amaro’ is Italian for ‘bitter,’ and refers to a style of herbal liqueur that is made to stimulate either appetite or digestion. Essentially, it is a non-specific complement to vermouth. This Minnesotan Amaro works to showcase (and complement the cuisine of) the Puerto Rican homeland of its mastermind, Brandon Reyes. The white rum base is macerated with Queen Victoria pineapple; re-distilled with cinnamon, allspice, ginseng, cherry bark, quassia bark, and a blend of other herbs and botanicals; sweetened; and ultimately proofed down with fresh pineapple juice before bottling.
This vibrant ray of Gravlingsommar smells like fall but feels like summer. Ideal for that crisp day of apple-picking or leaf-raking with a mix of cloud and sun. Baked pineapple becomes freshly baked apple pie, spiced aromas wafting through the open window. Is it cold enough for a campfire? Does it have to be? Either way, this is campfire weather.
Liquore delle Sirene ‘Bitter’ Lake Garda, IT [23% abv]
Another Northern Italian delicacy, this one made by Elisa Carta: trained sommelier, olive oil taster, and passionate herbalist. This aromatic delight, organic and free from chemicals and artificial flavors, is based on ancient family recipes. As with the Bordiga vermouth, the ingredients are infused individually in alcohol, then combined with the wine base to yield vast, complex flavors and aromas. The botanical blend is primarily native plants, with a few exotic exceptions such as Chinese Rhubarb Root. Structurally similar to Campari, this Bitter could wonderfully be substituted into tonight’s Negroni.
Think of a chilly day made temperate as the sun warms the daytime air. You might turn the heat on at night, but the daytime is salvaged when the sun breaks through the clouds and warms you to your toes. The leaves are crisp and crunchy, maybe a little past peak, and you can smell the neighbor toasting pumpkin seeds. This bitter is something to drink on a cold day, but it doesn’t feel like a cold day.
How to Drink These Delicious Libations
On the rocks
On their own
With a splash of soda water or tonic water and a citrus peel
Mix 1:2 with your spirit of choice (I used the Honeyoye Falls Distillery ‘Grist & Saw’ Empire Rye Whiskey). Stir with ice or add ½ oz water to the mix.
However you like! Taste each product and improvise with whatever flavors strike you. Experimentation is a great way to learn!
How to Store the Bottles
For longest storage, use a vino-vac sealer that removes the air from the bottle. Then store in a cool location, or a fridge if necessary. Protect from temperature extremes, especially heat. Drink within 3 months of opening.
1 As a technicality, the term ‘aromatized wines’ is slightly imperfect for this usage. ‘Aromatized liqueurs’ might be
more accurate, but the term ‘liqueur’ has been abused by the commercial industry to describe dull, artificial syrup-
boozes. Therefore, we shall proceed with ‘aromatized wines.’
2 A ‘bitter’ is stylistically and gustatorially similar to ‘cocktail bitters’ such as Angostura or Peychaud’s but meant to
be sipped, rather than used sparingly to synthesize the flavors in a cocktail.
3 In truth, there are aromatized wines ideal for every time of year, but that’s not the article I’m writing. Yet.
4 Many aromatized wines have historical recipes dating back centuries or millennia, with origins as medicinal
5 Hence its linguistic derivation from the German word for wormwood, vermut.
6 The rumors of the wormwood in absinthe being hallucinogenic are likely misattributions. The more likely culprit is
the high alcohol content (up to 74%).7 But endlessly gentler and more complex.
2 November, 2021