Domestic vermouth is on the rise—there's a bevy of small producers making new vermouths using high-quality wine and a range of both traditional and experimental flavoring agents. But what about alternatives to classic bitter cocktail ingredients? If you're thinking of Campari, there's Gran Classico, a lost-treasure bitter of Turin produced in Switzerland (and a serious obsession of mine), which was rediscovered and imported to the US by Tempus Fugit Spirits, but that's sorta the whole game. For the Quinquinas, there are a few substitutes for Lillet (which some find one-dimensional), such as Kina L'Avion d'Or (another bottle Tempus Fugit brings in from Switzerland), Suze from France (more on that here), and Cocchi Americano from Italy (see more on that right this way). But as far as domestic alternatives go, we haven't seen a ton of options, except perhaps Bittermens Amere Sauvage, a gentian liqueur produced in New York.
Enter Eden Ice Cider of Vermont, who recently released two ice-cider based bitter aperitifs. The juice base is pressed from local late season apples (including historic varieties like Roxbury Russet, Esopus Spitzenberg, and Northern Spy), and left to freeze outside. Once frozen, the ice is discarded and the concentrated juice (about 30% of the initial volume) is fermented with Champagne yeast to dryness and around 16% alcohol. No enzymes, fining agents, artificial flavorings, or dyes are used.
To make Orleans Herbal, the base is infused with fresh organic basil and anise hyssop leaves and stems, then strained and sweetened slightly (it has just 1% residual sugar) with ice cider. It smells like roasted apples with just a little herbal edge, and the flavor is fresh with lots of acidity and an herbal and apple-peel bitterness. It's refreshing over ice on its own, and it would add body and added interest to a flute of sparkling wine. Since it's not quite as sweet as Lillet, you won't be able to substitute it ounce-for-ounce in cocktails without other adjustments, but we'll be exploring it in gin cocktails for sure. Beyond the bracing vodka-gin Vesper, we'd put it on ice with a little gin, fresh orange and lime juice, and basil leaves, plus a splash of tonic for lightness. Rinsing the glass with absinthe wouldn't be a bad move.
"It's drier than Campari, but it'll class up a glass of club soda or sparkling wine nicely."
The rosy-colored Orleans Bitter, recommended as a Campari alternative, is infused with whole red currants for 5 days, and then a blend of bitter tinctures made by Urban Moonshine from organic Vermont-grown dandelion leaf, dandelion root, angelica and gentian, are added, and then the blend is sweetened with Eden Heirloom Blend ice cider and filtered before bottling. The herbal scent is robust and pungent, and the flavor follows through: this is bracingly bitter stuff, with delicate berry flavors but absolutely no syrupy sweetness. It's drier than Campari, but it'll class up a glass of club soda or sparkling wine nicely (add high-quality sweet vermouth for a twist on the Negroni Sbagliato) and it would fit right into a Jasmine, a gin and lemon cocktail that's lightly sweetened with Cointreau. (You might need a little extra Cointreau.)
Have you tried Orleans Aperitif Ciders? What did you think?