Byrrh Cassis Aperitif

We spent part of our summer vacation in the Languedoc-Roussillon. The region is famous for its wines, especially the reds and rosé (which we sampled – generously…), while it was once the most popular apéritif in the world, selling over 30 million bottles annually, Byrrh is also made in the region but nowadays less well-known. In fact, if you order a Byrrh in France, more often than not, you might be brought a glass of bière, unless your ear for French is pretty good as it’s pronunciation is close to ‘beer.’ (I once had to point it out on the menu at a wine bar in Paris, as the waiter had no idea what I was talking about.) There’s no beer in Byrrh, but there’s plenty of flavor in this iconic French apéritif.

Fortunately it’s available in the U.S. and elsewhere outside of France. The company was wise enough to rebrand it in vintage-type bottles, which are labeled Byrrh Grand Quinquina and based on the original recipe. Byrrh (shown below) Tradition is what you’ll find in France nine times out of ten, unless you go to a well-stocked cocktail bar. True, Byrrh Grand Quinquina has more finesse and is dryer than the Tradition, which is fruitier, but I appreciate both for their differences – which is a nice way to see things, isn’t it?

I dug deeper into the history of Byrrh in Drinking French, which was invented by two brothers who had a fabric store and were looking for a way to make more money, so concocted a health tonic. But the local pharmacists (i.e.; the competition) weren’t amused by what the company’s website currently refers to as the brother’s belle aventure, or beautiful journey, and brought a lawsuit against the frères, who had to stop saying their “health tonic” had quinine in it.

Byrrh is having a resurgence thanks to the craft cocktail movement and an interest in apéritifs oubliés or “forgotten” French apéritifs. It’s one of those ingredients that offers up flavors of ruby grapes, bitter quinine, juicy fruits, and hints of cocoa and walnuts, which bolsters any drink that it’s added to, as well as making it a pleasant apéritif on its own, served over ice with an orange twist or slice.

Remarkably, it also pairs well with mezcal. (Haus Alpenz, the distributor in the United States, recommends mixing 1 1/2 ounces Byrrh with 1/2 ounce mezcal, topped with grapefruit juice and sparkling water, served over ice.) Byrrh leans a little toward the fruity side, but the gentle bite of the quinine bark keeps it decidedly adults-only.

It’s easy to fall into the Spritz habit and make that your default sparkling apéritif. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Spritz a lot, and it’s cousins the Negroni Sbagliato…and this Strawberry Spritz, but it’s fun to mix things up and try something new every once in a while, isn’t it?

Byrrh Cassis
Print Recipe
1 cocktail
Adapted from The Savoy Cocktail Book and Difford's Guide Byrrh is a classic French apéritif. The version most commonly found in France, Byrrh "traditionelle" is shown in the fourth photo but Byrrh Grand Quinina, which is meant to replicate the original apéritif, comes in a more decorative bottle and is what's sold in the United States. It's available at well-stocked liquor stores and is also available online at K & L Wine Merchants, Astor Wines, Slope Cellars, and Liquorama. If you want to mix things up a little differently, I've also seen versions of Byrrh Cassis that use...beer!
1 1/2 ounces Byrrh
3/4 ounce crème de cassis
3 1/2 ounces sparkling water
1/2 orange wheel
a few berries, if desired
1. Pour the Byrrh and crème de cassis into a Collins glass or tumbler. Add the sparkling water and stir briefly.
2. Add a generous amount of ice cubes and garnish with orange and berries, if desired.


Byrrh Cassis Aperitif

14 comments

  • Mike Smith
    September 22, 2020 3:51pm

    The search is on! This sounds wonderful. Reply

  • Claudia Toutain-D’Orbec
    September 22, 2020 7:01pm

    I’ve followed David since the very beginning when he moved to Paris. He always treats us to the most wonderful surprises. I’m American and my husband, Pierre, is French. I’ve learned, from Pierre and from living in France, about some of the wonderful and unusual foods and drinks found there if you dig a little. That said, I discovered Byrrh (of all places) at Zupan’s Market in Portland, Oregon a few years ago (we now live in Cannon Beach). Pierre was thrilled. I couldn’t really find interesting ways to serve it, except the obvious. I really appreciate and love this recipe. Creme de cassis is a staple in many French households and I wouldn’t think of not having on hand! Thank you David. I have two of your cookbooks, which have certainly helped me prepare French food “correctly” in an American kitchen with success. Many of your recipes have become staples in our home and we thank you for getting it right. Your Absinthe cake is nothing if not a BIG hit for that Frenchman’s birthday. This will be the third book we will purchase. You are amazing and always inspire! Reply

  • Rachel
    September 23, 2020 2:18am

    The aperitif sounds wonderful. Reply

    • September 23, 2020 10:45am
      David Lebovitz

      Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for your comment (which I edited) – we’ve added a new “Report this Ad” feature on the blog, which appears under each ad. So please use that feature to report an ad which goes right to my ad network, who can remove ads. – david Reply

  • Susan Topor
    September 23, 2020 7:10am

    David, your comment about Byrth and biere reminded me of the time I ordered Lillet blanc and the waiter brought me a glass of milk (lait). I wonder what he’d have brought if I had asked for Lillet rouge! Reply

  • lamassu
    September 23, 2020 10:46am

    Recently I stocked up on CarpanoClassico, both the “white” + the “red” version
    because that’s what is available here around
    would that go too? Reply

    • September 23, 2020 10:55am
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, the red version would work (perhaps the white as well, although it’s a different flavor) – à santé! Reply

  • Ally
    September 23, 2020 5:12pm

    Hi David, This looks incredible, you are certainly inspiring me to stock my liquor cabinet (which could be a good or bad thing!).

    If I may ask, what kind of berries are those in your picture?

    They look a lot like lingonberries but if so I guess I didn’t realize they were available all over Europe – I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Italy last year and had similar looking ones in a a limoncello spritz cocktail and I’ve been wondering ever since. Reply

    • September 23, 2020 5:15pm
      David Lebovitz

      They’re red currants, which is usually available in France as they’re popular for making jellies – but they make a nice garnish, too! Reply

      • Ally
        September 23, 2020 5:26pm

        Yes, they certainly do! The color is so vibrant and beautiful.
        Thank you for taking the time to let me know and for sharing your wonderful blog with us!! Reply

  • Stephen Wheeler
    September 24, 2020 11:05pm

    This looks really good. However, I’ve checked around at all the usual suspect (larger) liquor stores here in Atlanta, and no one seems to carry Byrrh. It can be special ordered, but that would take a week or two. Is there a substitute or source in the States you’d recommend? Reply

    • September 25, 2020 11:20am
      David Lebovitz

      I did a quick search online and found that Candler Park Market carries it. But in place of it, you could use Dubonnet (which is now made in America) or a red vermouth that leans to the fruity/juicy side. (Usually the Italians ones are more fruit-forward than the French ones, when tend to be drier.) Another option could be to use a fruity red wine like gamay or merlot. That could be intereesting! Reply

  • Howard Chase
    November 23, 2020 8:30pm

    Bonjour David
    I hope when you did you trip you were able to have a tour of the factory and see the worlds largest barrel, and accompanying museum and posters. What a great story. Reply

    • November 23, 2020 10:01pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, I wrote more about it in Drinking French. It was quite a visit! Reply

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