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Alpine liqueurs refer to a category of spirits made with a specific category of botanicals—herbs, roots and barks—like mountain sage and other artemisia, gentian, yarrow, St. John’s wort, myriad types of pine, geranium, chamomile and a multitude of other plants native to mountainous, high-altitude regions.
Old-world style alpine liqueurs, while not a legal category of spirits, possess distinctive traits, the most obvious of which is the use of the aforementioned plants found in cool, mountainous climes—be that the Italian, French, Austrian or Swiss Alps, or even Mount Rainier in Washington State. Traditional alpine liqueurs also tend to be relatively high in alcohol, typically upward of 40%, whereas more modern styles tend to have a lower ABV.
There’s a reason these liqueurs differ from those of other climes. “Typical alpine liqueurs are higher in alcohol because they were designed to make people feel warmer,” says Livio Lauro, a teacher and spirits expert for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits. “The food you find in these areas has a different type of fat that often comes from a meat, whereas in southern Italy, we’re talking more about fat from things like ricotta and olive oil, so an amaro is doing a whole different job, and is typically lower in alcohol.” Lauro also notes that the perception of sweetness in alpine liqueurs tends to come more from plants like fennel and alpine mint (which is more of a bushy scrub plant than the tufty herb used as a cocktail garnish) than, say, the more commonly found citrus sources of the south.
What is the best way to drink them? The layered, herbal, floral flavors of these liqueurs add intrigue when substituted for other traditional modifiers in a multitude of classic three-ingredient drinks. Still, they do take a little know-how when employing them to best effect.
“It’s fair to say that alpine liqueurs and amari need the help of mixology more than other [liqueurs],” Lauro says. “It’s easy to swig chilled Sicilian Averna on ice or from the fridge, but not that easy to do with 40% ABV genepy. Because they’re a bit rough and tough in general, the easiest mix is to keep them in the rough and tough category. What is that? Manhattans, Vieux Carrés, Old Fashioneds or Negroni riffs; boozy, stirred cocktails are the easiest bet.”
These are nine mountain-high heroes of the category—and there are many more locally made versions out there, such as Cascadia Liqueur and Lee Spirits' Alpine Liqueur, that don’t have wide distribution but are well-worth trying if you can find them.
Antica Erboristeria Cappelletti Pasubio
Since 1902, this northern-Italian producer had been making local botanically inspired spirits in the foothills of the Italian Alps, and continues the family tradition with the fourth generation of Cappellettis at the helm. Pasubio is at once fruity and fresh, falling somewhere between a vermouth and a liqueur, with vinous flavor, silky texture and a ruby-brown color. It has the tart, wild smell and taste of summer beach plums (similar to sloe berries), with zippy notes of young pine from the mugo pines used in its making.
Antica Erboristeria Cappelletti Sfumato Rabarbaro
Another from Cappelletti, the main event in this bottle is the rhubarb (rabarbaro), which grows about an hour north of the distillery. In the glass, it’s opaque and cloudy, and offers aromas and flavors at once roasty and savory and yet bright with grapefruit peel, tart cherries and mint, with a luxurious, caramelized sweetness as a counterpoint to its earthy bitterness. Two other bottles from Cappelletti are also worth a try: Alta Verde, with wormwood as its principle botanical, and Novosalus, a wildly bitter and aromatic wine-based amaro.
BroVo+DF2 Douglas Fir Liqueur
This bottle, inspired by the nature surrounding the Woodinville, Washington, distillery, represents a modern ode to the towering ubiquitous local trees for which the spirit is named. Coming in at a demure 25% ABV, the liqueur smells like the first whiff of a Christmas tree on a cold December day, freshly cut and sappy, along with lovely spring mountain wildflowers. Its light, delicate freshness is in large part due to the harvesting of only each spring’s new growth of the fir trees. The subtle sweetness from agave lends an almost earthy base note.
Chartreuse Jaune (Yellow Chartreuse)
Yellow Chartreuse, one of a dynamic duo of Carthusian monk-crafted liqueurs, is a bit gentler than its brother, with softer, sweeter flavors—notably chamomile and honey, along with anise, cinnamon, eucalyptus and mint—and a lower ABV at 40%. It’s silky, almost voluptuous, with a viscous sweetness on the finish.
Chartreuse Verte (Green Chartreuse)
With a hefty 55% ABV, the flavor profile of the green version of this storied liqueur features botanicals that lean more toward the sweetly savory side of things: lemon zest, anise, pine and a medley of green herbs. It’s more linear on the palate than the yellow, with flavors every bit as complex as its lighter-hued sibling spirit.
Dolin Genepy le Chamois Liqueur
Made by Dolin since 1821, this 45% ABV liqueur from the French alpine region of Savoy only worked its way into the U.S. in 2015. Genepy is a type of artemisia often found in the alpine liqueurs of the region, but this bottle’s flavor profile isn’t one-note. You’ll find fresh fennel, chamomile, anise, wormwood and, as it sits on your tongue, a clove-like spiciness that grows in intensity. Note: This liqueur was once labeled as Genepy des Alps, so if you see a bottle with that name, it is indeed the same liquid.
Faccia Brutto Amaro Alpino
Launched in Brooklyn in early 2020, this 34% ABV bottle features a distinct whiff of wormwood along with notes of cardamom and nutmeg. There’s an initial salinity sprinkled on the dark, rooted flavors of allspice, cinchona and clove, but soon a menthol hit of eucalyptus and licorice grows on the palate, buffered by a gentle honeyed sweetness before a snappy bitter and orange-zesty finish.
St. George Spirits Bruto Americano
A West Coast version of an alpine amaro, this ruby-hued and robust 24% ABV bottle provides a nice introduction to the category of both amari and alpine-influenced spirits for the uninitiated. The balsam fir, gentian and rhubarb in the mix give it a high-altitude mountain kick, but ripe cherry, orange peel, cinnamon and cola notes add some ripe, spicy California gravity.
Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps
Made by an Austrian distillery that’s been crafting liqueurs since 1897, this 35% ABV bottle is the most versatile of the bunch. Made from the young cones harvested from Arolla stone pines, this rich, reddish-brown spirit smells of fresh fir needles and roasted walnuts, with a caramelized sweetness humming beneath the fresh woodsy and nutty notes. It’s as lovely to sip on its own as it is employed to add wintry nuance to myriad drinks.