“In our little journey up to the Grande Chartreuse, I do not remember to have gone ten paces without an exclamation, that there was no restraining: Not a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with religion and poetry.” – Thomas Gray, 1739
Aromatized wines have become one of my drinks of choice during summer afternoons. Sweet vermouths were my introduction to the category and now I’m searching for new varieties. One that I stumbled across that this post focuses on is Bonal Gentiane-Quina. Hippolyte Bonal, also known as Brother Raphael, a monk who lived near the Chartreuse Mountains in France created this concoction in 1865, and now it has global distribution.
Whereas the primary bittering agent in vermouth is wormwood (see Lustau Vermut Rosé) Bonal uses gentian and cinchona (suhn-cho-nuh) bark. Since Bonal uses cinchona tree bark it’s often classified as a quinquina (kwin-kweena) wine. Quinquina or quina is the Quecha word for cinchona and means “holy bark” or “bark of barks.” In addition, quina is the root of the word quinine, the anti-malarial treatment. So, drink Bonal this summer to fight malaria instead of a gin and tonic because tonic water also drives its flavor form cinchona bark.
Bonal’s flavors are inviting and transition through a sip. Through the majority of a tasting, I primarily detect plum and raisins. These gently give way to a hint of licorice that adds the touch of bitterness at the end. Overall, the balance is satisfying which definitely distinguishes it from certain sweet vermouths that have too much sugar.
THIRST AND HUNGER
Twist on a Classic: Flip
I made this twist on a classic prior to dinner one night and had the greatest surprise of any cocktail I’ve created thus far. While tasty, this drink is far better suited for after dinner drink in winter. The creaminess of the egg transformed the nature of the Bonal and resulted in what I can best describe as a wonderful light eggnog variation. This flip brought out notes of cacao with the plum subtly coming through. In addition, the texture transformed the sensation of the Bonal. I can’t wait to make this again mid-winter.
For the drink:
2 oz Bonal
½ oz simple syrup(demerara)
1 whole egg
For the garnish:
Nick and Nora
Combine all of the drink ingredients into a cocktail shaker without ice and shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Next, add ice and shake for another 10 seconds till chilled. Double strain into your glass through a Hawthorn and small mesh strainer. Top with grated nutmeg.
Something Original: Fort Duquesne(Du-Cain)
I struggled to come up with an original recipe using Bonal. I went through several different ideas. I tried several different pairings with gin, to provide a French version of the gin and tonic but was never satisfied with the results. I pivoted to pairing it with bourbon, as I found the smoke and caramel blended well with the Bonal. The name comes from the French Bonal and Wigle Straight Bourbon from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh originated as a French military encampment, Fort Duquesne.
For the drink:
2 oz Bonal
1 oz Wigle Straigh Bourbon
¼ oz Limoncello
¼ oz simple syrup (demerara)
For the garnish:
Combine all of the drink ingredients in a cocktail mixer. Fill it about halfway with ice. Stir, using a bar spoon, until chilled, about 20 seconds. Use a Hawthorne strainer to pour into your rocks glass with one giant ice cube or several smaller cubes. Express the lemon peel over the drink and garnish.
Eat Your Spirit: Bonal Ice Cream
I love alcohol in my desserts and here is another recipe to prove it. The process of making homemade custard-based ice cream is quite fulfilling for me, as it’s a multi-step endeavor, requires attention to detail, and takes a long time for the eventual payoff. The depth of Bonal blends well with the vanilla, the only other flavoring in the ice cream, and produces a complex ice cream.
For the ice cream:
1 ¾ cups heavy cream
1 ¼ cups whole milk
1/3 cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of white sugar
6 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 ½ tbsp Bonal Gentiane-Quina
-If using a Kitchen Aid ice cream maker, put the bowl attachment in the freezer at least 24 hours ahead of when you will mix the ice cream.
-Start the following process at least 7 hours before you want to eat your ice cream.
-Place two 9X13 or similarly sized metal pans in the freezer.
-Mix the heavy cream, milk, corn syrup, salt, and ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar in a metal saucepan hand heat over medium until it reaches 175 degrees, stirring frequently.
-While the cream mixture is heating, whisk the egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup of sugar together.
-When the cream mixture has reached 175 degrees take it off the heat and scoop out 1 cup.
-Slowly pour the cup into the bowl with the egg yolks and sugar.
-Once combined, pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the cream mixture and put the pan back on the heat, until it reaches 180 degrees. Stir frequently.
-Once the final temperature is reached pour the mixture into a large bowl and let rest for 20 minutes.
-Scoop out 1 cup and pour into a smaller bowl. Cover each bowl with plastic wrap.
-Place the small bowl in the freezer and large bowl in the fridge.
-After a minimum of four hours, remove the bowls from the refrigerator and freezer. Add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 4 ½ tablespoons of Bonal to the large bowl that was in the fridge.
-Scrape the frozen mixture from the small bowl into the large bowl and mix until the frozen mixture is incorporated and melted.
-Start your ice cream maker and pour in the ice cream base. Churn until the ice cream has reached the desired creaminess, about 25 minutes. (It may take slightly longer than other ice creams as the alcohol in the Bonal slows the freezing process).
-Once churned, scoop into the two metal pans and spread evenly. Then put a layer of plastic wrap over the pans and ensure the plastic wrap is pressed down on the ice cream.
-Place the two tins in the freezer for at least an hour and then enjoy.
Bonal Gentiane-Quina comes from Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, located in southwest France. The gentian in Bonal grows in the Chartreuse Mountains, considered the French Prealps. While the region provides the gentian and other botanicals that make Bonal delicious, the region is fantastic for other reasons as well.
I was fortunate enough to visit the region in the summer of 2017. The mountains are fantastic for outdoor activities, and I went whitewater rafting one day and canyoning the next. While whitewater rafting was a familiar experience, canyoning was something fantastically new. Initially, you are fitted with a rock-climbing harness and helmet. Then you follow a river down through a canyon in the mountains. At some points you hook in and repel down frock faces. Some places you jump 10 feet or more into the river. In other areas the water has smoothed out the rock to create natural slides. Hiking, swimming, repelling, and every other canyoning activity is a wonderful way to spend a day. I’m sure this exists in other regions of the world, but this was my first-time doing it.
Besides canyoning and rafting, the Chartreuse Mountains seem an ideal place for all kinds of other outdoor activities, such as skiing, mountain biking, and hiking. But if alcohol consumption is more your speed, you can also imbibe a more famous spirit from the region, Chartreuse. Chartreuse is produced by the Carthusian Catholic Order, and the color of the liqueur gave the world the color name. You cannot visit the monastery of the order, but they don’t make the spirit there anymore due to concerns about explosions while making the spirit. Distilling is a dangerous business and not worth producing in a historic monastery founded in 1084.
My limited time in the region made me want to return, and next time I’ll drink Bonal from the source.