Until recently, it was very difficult to find the French apéritif Bonal Gentiane-Quina. Thanks to a resurgence in classic cocktails, and an attendant quest for original ingredients, this is no longer the case. I found this at Dave's Fresh Pasta in Somerville, Massachusetts, which stocks an amazing variety of hard-to-find wines, vermouths, amari, digestifs, and apéritifs. If you're in the Boston area, you can also find Bonal at Cambridge Wine & Spirits (as of this post), a truly awesome liquor store for sheer breadth of choice.
Bonal, as described on the Haus Alpenz site:
Since 1865, this delicious aperitif wine has stood apart for its exceptional complexity, delightful flavors and stimulating palate. Serious to its role as aperitif, it was known as "ouvre l'appétit" - the key to the appetite. Found popular with sportsmen, Bonal became an early sponsor of the Tour de France. It is made by an infusion of gentian, cinchona (quinine) and renown herbs of the Grand Chartreuse mountains in a Mistelle base. Traditionally enjoyed neat or with a twist; also may enhance classic drinks in place of sweet red vermouth.I tried this in a Manhattan in place of sweet vermouth, and it made a fine drink. It is more herbal than most vermouths, and has a bitter aftertaste; it changes the expression of the Manhattan in intriguing ways. I used two parts Old Overholt to one part Bonal, with a dash of Angostura Bitters and a dash of Regan's Orange Bitters. Bonal allowed the rye to shine through, and complemented its spiciness with a nice, mildly bitter finish.
After a cursory search online, I found the Bonal & Rye - credited to a bartender by the name of Todd Smith. If you're interested, you can read an article on the use of apéritifs such as Bonal, which mentions Mr Smith, in the San Francisco Chronicle. My version is the same as his, except I increase the rye by one ounce. Call me drunk or greedy, but I think the drink is a bit too sweet otherwise.
Along with Bonal Gentiane-Quina, you'll need a good rye. Now, I am a bourbon lover. But I really, really enjoy a good rye, and I have sampled a great many over the years. I highly recommend Rittenhouse 100-proof rye. Rittenhouse - named "North American Whiskey of the Year" at the 2006 San Francisco World Spirits Competition - is not only a delight, but a bargain at about $20. Other fine ryes (fairly easy to find these days) are Wild Turkey 101 Rye, Russell's Reserve Rye, Bulleit Rye, (rī)1, Redemption Rye, and Old Overholt Rye. All of them are worth checking out - and spending a little quality time with.
You'll also need Cointreau (or triple sec liqueur), orange bitters, and Angostura bitters. I advise that you don't overdo it on the Cointreau, as it is quite sweet; on the other hand, you can be a little more generous with the Bonal. But first, try it like this:
The Bonal & Rye Cocktail
- 3 oz rye whiskey
- 1 oz Bonal Gentiane-Quina
- 1/2 oz Cointreau
- 2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters