The turning of the calendar always seems to be about new beginnings, a fresh start and a chance to start over and get it right this time. That never quite sits right with me. In spite of the ingrained self-loathing that is the birthright of my generation, I am actually reasonably happy with myself. Sure, there is room for improvement on almost all levels, but that basic structure is pretty good, so I don’t really want a new start. Who am I kidding? At my age I am happy to be able to keep on keeping on without too many accommodations to the “changing” eyesight, that lifestyle induced arthritis and the increased distinguishedness of my locks. So rather than a restart, I like to focus on making small adjustments, looking for improvement over perfection. So, if you are into a little experimentation, to trying something new in hopes of a better tomorrow, won’t you join me now as we stand and make, the Rheinberg Sour.
This drink comes to us from a random comment on my beloved Trinidad Sour. That’s right, this one was inspired by the drink that started it all for me, that very first cocktail post, back when I did not have quite so many words at my disposal, or plan for how to use them. In some ways, not much has changed. I am still writing about drinks, in a much expanded format. I still don’t have much of a plan in that I never know what I am going to say about a drink till I get started and I don’t know when I will write or when I will stop. I like the freeform nature of it. On the upside, I know a little more than I did when I started and I am way more likely to take chances on things these days. Which is why I decided to give it a whirl when someone suggested that you could swap in Underberg Digestif bitters for Angostura bitters in the Trinidad Sour. I was dubious, but we have had good luck with this ingredient, so in a nod to tradition and convention, I swapped out the name to reflect the location where our primary ingredient is made and got to mixing.
Just to set things straight, I am a big fan of Underberg. For those who haven’t been introduced yet, they are digestif bitters made in Rheinberg, Germany using herbs from 43 different countries and aged in Slovenian oak barrels, since 1846. They come in adorable little 20ml bottles wrapped in brown paper with little “U” topped lids you can collect and swap for cool gear. I was introduced to them in Munich about a decade ago after a particularly filling dinner and after a little effort, I have loved them ever since. That said, they are an acquired taste. As the good folks from Underberg themselves say on the bottle, “It is not a beverage and should be sipped or taken all at once because of its strong herbal taste.” They are indeed bitter and wonderful, if you go in for that sort of thing. They also excel as a flavoring. I have been shocked by this intriguing ingredient in several cocktails. Whether in the Krauter Sour, the Ice-Berg or event the tropical Imperial Bulldog, Underberg is always surprising and wonderful, so I was curious to see what it would do in a Trinidad build.
We are shaking things up so grab your tins and pop in one ounce of rye, I chose Corsair Ryemageddon, 3/4 of an ounce of orgeat, 3/4 of an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, half an ounce of egg white and two bottles of Underberg. Add some of that artisanal ice and shake hard to the beat of Emilie Autumn’s wonderfully discordant harpsichord version of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life“. When your tins begin to frost over, open them up and strain your cocktail from one to the other before discarding the ice and going for a second “dry shake”. Slowly pour into something suitably beautiful and garnish with a little dehydrated star fruit.
Well, isn’t that lovely? It has a nice color and a wonderful flavor, a little on the sweet side, but nice for an after dinner drink, which makes sense for a digestif. It also did that inexplicable thing that we have found with other Underberg cocktails where the flavor evolves as the temperature changes. This happens with most drinks, but not on this scale. Chocolate undertones shift toward vanilla as a tartness moves up in the palate. Really unique and intriguing. This drink is a lot of nice things, but it is not a Trinidad Sour. Underberg just doesn’t hit with the same spice-filled bitter force that Angostura brings to the table.
So we gave it a shot and things did not work out the way we had hoped. That’s ok. There is a reason we actually try the things rather than judging them on looks alone. The Rheinberg Sour is really nice, but it is not an improvement on the Trinidad Sour. In fact, I would not even put them in the same category. However, it is a really lovely cocktail that deserves a place on your after dinner menu. You win some, you lose some, some get rained out, as they say. I am going to call this little experiment a win, but maybe one of those with an asterisk? Things worked out, but there was a bit of luck involved and we got a different result than we expected, but isn’t that kind of wonderful in itself? I think it is. May the coming year bless you with some educated experimentation, a little luck and some unexpected outcomes, in the meantime, stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.