Seamus Harris is a dedicated enthusiast of well-made cocktails who splits his time between Auckland, New Zealand and Shanghai, China. He publishes the Bunnyhugs blog.
To assist my anticipatory salivation ahead of Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown’s Tales of the Cocktail presentation on “The Cafes of Paris”, I have been taking a look at a few lesser known French aperitifs. A few weeks ago I took a look at Pineau des Charentes. Today I am going to introduce a pair of fruit quinquinas.
Quinquina is vermouth’s neglected cousin. Vermouth is well recognized, if widely feared and misunderstood. Martini drinkers fall into two camps: those who really want vermouth in their drink, and those who merely wish to ritualistically conjure up its spirit. However, while vermouth provokes fierce debate and elaborate juju, the mention of quinquina elicits little more than a blank stare. This is a shame because quinquina is an interesting category. To fix those blank stares, perhaps a little explanation is in order.
Both quinquina and vermouth are aromatized wines. Quinquinas distinguish themselves from vermouths in using quinine as a key flavoring. As in tonic water, the quinine originally served a medicinal purpose – warding off malaria and all that. Vermouth and quinquina are not mutually exclusive categories. Some vermouth producers sell ‘quinquina’ versions alongside their regular vermouths: for example Martini & Rossi release their sweet vermouth in both ‘quniquina’ and standard versions. However, despite some overlap there are marked differences, with quinquinas tending to emphasize spice while vermouths are more herbal.
Similar to vermouths, which can be broadly classified into sweet and dry styles, quinquinas largely fall into rouge and blanc styles. The rouge style is rich, spicy and based on red wine – Dubonnet Rouge is the classic example. The blanc style is light, citrus accented, and based on white wine – Lillet Blanc is the iconic product.
For some reason neither of these mainstream styles of quinquina ever challenged vermouth to become a ubiquitous cocktail ingredient. Cocktail recipes never casually call for a generic rouge or blanc quinquina. Quinquina is called for only occasionally, and always by brand. Even luminaries like Charles H. Baker considered Dubonnet to be “only needed in the more elaborate establishments”, and I do not recall him mentioning Lillet at all. Considering that Baker saw orgeat, kummel and six types of bitters as more or less essential bar supplies, this adds up to a bit of a slap in the face for the quinquina category.
If mainstream quinquinas like Dubonnet and Lillet are fairly obscure, fruit flavored quinquina are even more so. These fruity quinquina do not fall within either the rouge or blanc styles, with heavy fruit macerations completely masking the base wine. They deserve a look from cocktailians though, offering a great source of fruit flavors and complexity, yet one with minimal sweetness. Two products are introduced below: RinQuinQuin and Orange Colombo.
RinQuinQuin (15% alcohol by volume) is a peach flavored quinquina. It is produced in Provence by the same firm that makes Henri Bardouin pastis. The name means something like an invigorating drink or a pick-me-up in French. The production process involves maceration, distillation, blending and several months of aging. Both distilled alcohol and wine are infused with quinine, other herbs and spices, and peaches. The peaches are what distinguish the product, and are added not as fruit, but rather as leaves, skins and kernels. This makes for a very complex flavor. The product is lightly sweetened. The result is a fruity but refreshingly dry aperitif wine with a distinctly bitter edge.
Orange Colombo (15% alcohol by volume) is an orange flavored quinquina along the same lines as RinQuinQuin. Based on its complex taste I am guessing it is flavored with more than just orange skins. As in RinQuinQuin, leaves, blossoms or other material may also be used.
These fruit quinquina are traditionally consumed either chilled or over ice, perhaps garnished with a twist of lemon. However, there is no reason they cannot be used in cocktails. Bear in mind that their mild fruitiness makes them poor vermouth substitutes, while their lack of sugar and their herbal complexity prevent them from standing in for fruit liqueurs. A bit of a fresh approach is in order.
Here are a few ideas. . .
1 oz Italian vermouth (Martini Rossi)
1 oz RinQuinQuin
2 dashes Fees Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters
1 tsp maraschino
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
A nice take on the Martinez. Cutting the vermouth with RinQuinQuin makes for a lighter and more interesting drink. The Genever provides a mellow but solid base, neither fading into obscurity nor dominating. The complex peach notes mingle nicely with the cherry. Increase the Genever a little if you find it lacks kick.
When playing around with RinQuinQuin to create variations on existing recipes you will probably find that cutting vermouth half-and-half with RinQuinQuin works better than a straight substitution. RinQuinQuin is more of a one note product than vermouth, albeit a complex note.
1 oz vodka (Stolichnaya)
¼ oz Lillet Blanc
¼ oz RinQuinQuin
Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a large lemon twist.
This is just brilliant. By upping the bitterness the RinQuinQuin addresses the problem of Lillet having been reformulated and lightened since the Vesper was originally invented. The RinQuinQuin also adds a peach layer to the citrus in the Lillet.
Orange Colombo can be used to create another nice Vesper variation. Both products can also be used in regular Martinis, where they work especially well with delicate gins like Tanqueray 10 that stand up poorly to vermouth. I would be inclined to split the quinquina 50/50 with vermouth.
½ oz Orange Columbo
¾ oz lime juice
1/3 oz simple syrup
1 egg white
Dash or two of Fees Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters
Put everything except the bitters in a mixing glass. Shake long and hard over ice until the drink becomes foamy. Double strain into a sour glass. Finish the drink by garnishing the foam with a few drops of bitters – you can use a toothpick to draw a pattern on the foam.
The Orange Columbo adds both a subtle orange note and a light bite, making a pleasant variation that jazzes up the original. Perhaps I am not using the right pisco, but I find pisco sours tend to be a little too plain and smooth. Orange Columbo can liven things up without creating an unseemly ruckus. You can also try a splash of Orange Colombo in a Margarita – obviously you will still need the orange liqueur, but possibly it could be scaled back a notch.
There is tons of potential for using these obscure fruit quinquina in cocktails. If you see a bottle you should grab it and have a play around. Currently these products are underutilized, leaving the field wide open to experimentation.