Frozen in time

10 May, 2018


The bitters category grew 1.5% to 41m 9-litre cases in 2017, according to Euromonitor International, so there are reasons to be optimistic. But one challenge has always remained key to herbal bitters – how to explain what the category is. Historically these drinks contain aromatic herbs, bark, roots and/or fruit and are categorised variously as bitters, herbal bitters, liqueurs (especially by many producers) and sometimes as aperitifs and digestifs, depending on their origin and consumption culture. Throw in cocktail bitters and you have a recipe for consumer confusion.

Philippe Jouhaud, marketing director for Bénédictine, believes the way forward is to go back to basics: “The challenge lies with liqueurs that might have lost some relevance with consumers since a lot of them were traditionally drunk after dinner and there is today a lower demand for after-dinner drinks. Another challenge is probably the fact that a lot of consumers may not understand the taste profile. Liqueurs are complex so it is difficult to provide a simple product description.”


The key message for many liqueur producers is to leverage the essence of their brands, their history. Rudi Carraro, UK brand ambassador for Amaro Montenegro, says: “You really need to understand where you’re coming from to know where you’re going.”

So what do herbal bitters have to work with? Well, take Strega, reated in 1860 by Giuseppe Alberti in Benevento, Italy. He moved to the city when his father, a spice merchant, was imprisoned after a feud with a rival family. Alberti was keen to make use of the area’s railway links and began transporting local wines to France.

He started to make money, enough even to buy a small selection of bars in the area. When his father was released, they decided to make a herbal liqueur. The knowledge of spices Alberti’s father possessed helped with the ingredients.

Benevento was famous for its witches, so ‘Strega’ – ‘witch’ in Italian – was a fitting name for the liqueur. The real hook to the story is the unlikely yarn that, while Alberti and his father were searching for herbs, they came across a witch trapped under a collapsed tree branch. They saved the witch and were rewarded with a ‘secret’ recipe for their liqueur.

They were sworn to secrecy and vowed not to reveal to anyone the recipe, other than upon their death when they could impart it to family members, so the recipe would forever live on. Supposedly, to this day only two people know the recipe and only they are allowed to prepare the herbs for Strega.

Moving on to Bénédictine, Jouhaud tells DI about the rich history behind the brand: “We have an incredible heritage. The original recipe dates was created in 1510 by Benedictine monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli. It was then rediscovered by Alexandre Le Grand in 1863 when he built a distillery in a unique place that remains today, the Palais Bénédictine in Fécamp, Normandy.”

“The Palais Bénédictine is an incredible asset where our guests discover in detail the process for making Bénédictine.

“They get to know some of the 27 herbs that are used, and can see and smell the distillation of the ingredients in the same stills that have been used since the end of the 14th century.


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