Gentian Apéritif Cordial | Ode to Herbal Bitters

Posted by Lindsay Kluge on Monday, November 16, 2015

Welcome to the season where bitters have their time to shine.

As November and December come and go, we indulge ourselves in copies amounts of sweet, savory, seasonal and glorious foods around tables (hopefully) surrounded with family and sweet friends. For centuries, this has been celebration. This is Joy. And for centuries, herbal medicines have been used as our medicine allies, to enhance and support the body in times of good and ill. Whenever I incorporate Gentian into my day-to-day routine, I’m reminded of how magical historical herbs and rituals are present in our modern lives and in our celebrations.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Gentian is a fantastic herbal ally for digestive support especially around the holiday season when we put a little extra strain on our digestive tract. But using straight bitters can be a little….harsh, and a little…..abrupt if you’re not used to eating bitter things (which most of use are not). So although some hardcore herbalists are out there taking shots of straight up bitters and swigs of gentian right out of the tincture bottle (been there, I’m not that hardcore), I often take a more subtle approach to bitters. As you probably know, gentian is used to flavor a fair share of cocktails because it’s a perfect flavor for that kind of beverage, and a little bit goes a long way. Traditionally, we used to drink bitter cordials called Aperitif’s to stimulate our digestion before meals and they usually taste amazing. Not only that, it’s a perfect little beverage to sit around and sip on before a holiday dinner to enhance digestion. Delicious and effective. Win Win.

My version of this Gentian Apéritif was adapted from a 200 year old historical recipe I found a few years ago when I started experimenting with herbal cordials, digestif’s and aperitifs. When you make a cordial the historical way, it’s quite a bit sweeter than my Gentian Aperitif, as I omit the sugar and rely on the cherry bark and licorice + other flavors in my cocktails to add the sweet. I like this recipe for 2 reasons: 1. It can be made the slow, traditional way, or sped up if you’re in a pinch, and 2. It tastes sublime and fresh. It carries the bitter along with the myriad of other flavors, making this an ideal before-holiday-meal aperitif!


Gentian Aperitif Cordial (featured)

3/4 cup Reeds Extra Ginger Beer

1 inch slice freshly squeezed orange

1 dropperfull (30 drops) Gentian Apéritif

1-2 pieces fresh rosemary (plus a sprig for flare)

Optional orange rind for flare. 

Sip slowly starting 30-45 minutes before the big meals to enhance digestion


Historical Gentian Bitters | Traditional Preparation

  • Gentian Root, 1 ounce (28 grams)
  • Fresh Orange Peel, 2 ounce (57 grams)
  • Cinnamon Bark, 1 ounce (28 grams)
  • Licorice Root, 1 ounce (28 grams)
  • Wild Cherry Bark, 1 ounce (28 grams)
  • Cardamom Seed, 1/4 ounce (7 grams)
  • Angelica Root or Seed 1/16 ounce. (3.5 grams)
  • Grain Alcohol, 1 pint (2 cups)
  • Water, 2.5 pints. (5 cups)
  • Sugar, 2 pounds

Chop the Orange Peel fine and grind the herbs to a coarse powder using a spice grinder. Place in a large, glass jar and cover with the alcohol and let sit for 3 days. After 3 days, strain out the herbs and pour off the alcohol (save the alcohol!). Place the macerated herbs into a percolator and percolate with the alcohol tincture first, then percolate with the water. When all of the liquid has been percolated, dissolve the sugar in the water & alcohol mixture completely. At this point, you should have a combination of the twice used alcohol, water and sugar. Strain through a very fine strainer, or through a cotton cloth, obtaining as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the herbs, and store the liquid in small glass dropper bottle.