Feel a runny nose and coughing sneak up on you? Take a shot of bitters along with your flu shot; it worked in the old days and it still does, says Warren Bobrow in a new cocktail book called “Apothecary Cocktails – Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today.”
Before modern medicine, apothecaries would grow healing herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables in their kitchen gardens and — this is where the fun comes in — preserve them in alcohol. They would be mixed in different ways according to the patients’ symptoms. For example, bitters were prescribed to treat malaises of the stomach and respiratory systems.
Bobrow’s book is divided into seven chapters, each focusing on a certain ailment and the history of its treatment. Here, we rounded up one recipe from each chapter.
Digestives and Other Curatives – Soothers and Libations for All That Ails You
The stomach cures from the olden days often consisted of potent liquors and herbal bitters that helped detoxify the body. One of them is the Peppery Fennel Fizz. The fennel gimmick works as a diuretic and remedies digestive malaises.
1 oz. (30 ml) fennel simple syrup
2 oz. (60 ml) raki orabsinthe
1⁄4 t. dried chile flakes
1 t. orange bitters
4 oz. (120 ml) seltzer water
Fill a tall Collins glass with crushed ice. Add the fennel simple syrup, raki, chile flakes, and bitters — use the full teaspoon, don’t skimp! Stir gently, top with seltzer water, sip and let the detox begin.
Winter Warmers – Drinks to Chase the Chill Away
Warmth and vitamins are vital in your fight against the inevitable winter chill. Many of the winter warmers have their roots in cold countries like in Scandinavian and Eastern Europe, where residents beat the lack of light and the cold with warm drinks, bitters and citrus fruits that provide important vitamin C for your immune system. Toddies are a well-known example of winter warmers and Centerba and Chocolate Chaud is an interesting version of that. The Centerba is distilled from over a hundred wild aromatic botanicals and will warm you all the way through your bones.
3 oz. (90 ml) Centerba
5 to 6 oz. (150 to 175 ml) hot chocolate (combine 3⁄4 cup of whole milk with 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Add 1/4 pound of grated bittersweet chocolate. Heat slowly — do not boil — and whisk constantly until smooth.)
Sugar or honey, to taste (optional)
Freshly made whipped cream
Preheat two mugs by filling them with boiling water; discard the water after a few seconds. Add 1 1⁄2 ounces (45 ml) Centerba to each mug; pour half the hot chocolate over the Centerba in each mug. (Add a little sugar or honey to taste, if necessary.) Spoon the fresh whipped cream over the top, then relax, indulge and sip until you’re thoroughly thawed. Serves 2.
Hot-Weather Refreshers – Drinks to Cool the Fevered Brow
Refreshing and hydrating are the key words in the summer heat. Fizzy water helps you feel cooler faster and helps restore appetites. Weirdly, hot spices also help you cool down. A great summer drink is the Rhubarb and Strawberry Swizzle. Rhubarb has been used for healing more than 200 years because of its vitamin C and potassium content.
3 t. (45 ml) strawberry–rhubarb compote (Roughly chop four stalks of rhubarb. In a medium saucepan, combine one pint [290 g] of strawberries and the rhubarb, and place over medium heat until softened. Using a food processor or mortar and pestle, puree the mixture until it becomes a thick liquid. Set aside to cool.)
6 oz. (175 ml) Rhum Agricole (or Cachaca rum, if you can’t find it)
1 rock candy swizzle stick
12 oz. (355 ml) club soda
Add the strawberry and rhubarb mixture, rum and ice to a glass beaker, and mix well with the swizzle stick. (The faster you swizzle, the better! Moving the swizzle stick quickly ensures that the liquids and solids in the drink are thoroughly combined.) Strain the mixture into two coupé glasses, top with club soda and use the swizzle stick as garnish, if desired. Then kick back and let the tart, refreshing fizz chill you out. Serves 2.
Restoratives – Tasted-And-True Hangover Cures from the Apothecary
Here are some alternatives to the classic ‘the-morning-after’ Mimosas. One of them is Gin and Coconut Ice with Seltzer, which provides you with tonic for your stomach, a healing bitter, calming Thai basil and coconut-water ice cubes to cool and hydrate your overheated hungover body. Drink with a purpose!
Coconut-water ice cubes (freeze unsweetened coconut water)
2 oz. (60 ml) botanical gin
1 oz. simple syrup (one cup boiling water to one cup sugar mixed until sugar dissolved)
2 drops aromatic bitter (such as Bitter End Thai bitters or Angostura bitters)
1 ½ oz. seltzer water
Sprig of Thai basil
Fill a tall glass of coconut-water ice cubes. Pour the gin over them, followed by the simple syrup. Shake a couple drops of bitters into the glass and top with seltzer water. Garnish with a single sprig of Thai basil, gently crushed to release its fragrant natural oils. This drink is especially soothing for a hot weather hangover.
Relaxants and Toddies – Drinks to Ease the Mind and Spirit
In earlier days, opium and morphine may have been part of these relaxants, but don’t worry, they have been removed from these recipes. The Herbal Sleep Punchis based on calming herb tea.
1 bag each chamomile tea, lavender tea and fennel tea
Juice of 1 lime
Honey simple syrup (see page 157 of the book) to taste
3 oz. (90 ml) botanical gin
Infuse the teabags in 5 oz. (150 ml) hot water for at least an hour. When cool, pack a tall glass with ice. Pour the tea over the ice; add the lime juice, and sweeten to taste with the honey simple syrup. Finally, add the gin, and mix gently. G’night!
Painkilling Libations – Ache-Soothing Analgesics
Celery, limes, nutmeg, ginger, thyme; the list of effective ingredients is long, and they all have their own purpose. In The Old Oak Tree Cocktail the thyme helps with digesting, respiratory infections and promoting healthy circulation.
3 oz. (90ml) Rhum Vieux Agricole
1 1⁄2 oz. (45 ml) cane sugar syrup
1⁄2 oz. (15 ml) sweet vermouth
3 to 4 dashes Angostura bitters
1 1⁄2 oz. (45 ml) fresh lime juice
Sprig of fresh thyme
Combine the liquid ingredients in a Boston shaker. Fill the shaker three-quarters full with ice; then shake for twenty seconds. Strain the mixture into a rocks glass with one ice cube, and garnish with a sprig of thyme. Relax, sip, repeat and let tension and body aches melt away.
Mood Enhancers – Good Cheer in a Glass
Don’t let the stress and bad mood beat you — there are plenty of natural ways to cheer yourself up. Natural oils in sage can promote a sense of calm and content. In the Chartreuse Curative cocktail saffron is added because of its antiseptic, antidepressant and antioxidant qualities.
3 oz. (90 ml) Chartreuse VEP
1 oz. (30 ml) dry vermouth
1 egg white
2 to 3 saffron threads
Add the chartreuse, vermouth, and egg white to a Boston Shaker; then fill the shaker three-quarters full with ice. Shake vigorously for twenty seconds until frothy. Strain the mixture into a coupé glass, and garnish with the saffron. Then sit back and watch sinking spirits rise.