Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Myrrh, Fernet Branca and After Dinner Drinks

Everyone knows that Myrrh was one of the gifts that the Three Wise Men gave the infant Christ but I didn't know it is used to make an alcoholic drink! It's used in the production of Fernet Branca which is an Amaro (bitter liqueur) made in Italy. Amaros are often drunk as a digestif (after dinner drink). You'll often find that herbs are added to digestifs to help settle your meal.

Fernet Branca is made from over 40 spices, including Myrrh, with a base of grape distilled spirits. The recipe is a secret, and was created by the young Maria Scala in 1845 in Milan as a medicine. Scala's name became Maria Branca through marriage, and the product's name was born. The Fernet Branca is still produced in Milan by the company Fratelli Branca, overseen by the Branca family.

The drink has been popular in San Francisco since before prohibition but is enjoying a new surge in popularity after being named the favourite drink of the 2007 US Open winner Angel Cabrera. The drink was also the subject of a comedy routine of the same name from Bill Cosby's album Fat Albert, in which he describes his own experiences with the drink.

Myrrh is a yellowish-red sweet-smelling resin and is often used as incense. It oozes from damaged bark of certain trees in the genus Commiphora which grow in Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia. It was said that the Roman Emperor Nero burned a year's worth of Myrrh at the funeral of his wife and Pliny the Elder refers to myrrh as being one of the ingredients of perfumes. Myrrh was also used to fumigate wine jars before bottling in Roman times.

If you prefer a lighter and less medicinal digestif then try Sauternes. Although these wines are known as dessert wines their sweetness is not cloying due to their zesty acidity which makes them great aperitifs and digestifs. Flavours can include apricots, peaches, dried pineapple, nuts and honey and the finish lasts on the palate for a long time. Their colour is gold which darkens with time to a deep copper. The wine should be served chilled at around 11ºC. These dessert wines have an incredible ability to age and continue to develop for decades. Try Chateau Sainte Hélène (£15.49) – it is a lovely Sauternes with a real orange tang to it. It has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey and is a wine that you will really savour.

1 comment:

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