We all know what it feels like. It’s Thanksgiving, the table is loaded with goodies and it would certainly offend Aunt Martha if you didn’t have at least one bite of her pecan pie. But while you made your Aunt happy with that one bite, it likely was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now you feel stuffed and lethargic — the classic case of holiday overdoing it. There is good news, though. There is a cure for the Holiday Food Coma! Developed in Germany in 1846, the cure is tiny yet effective — a 20 mL, single serving, alcoholic digestive called Underberg. It isn’t a beverage per se, even though there is an elegant hand-blown Underberg glass to serve it in. And according to the label, Underberg is “not to be sipped” but rather slammed like a shot. It is bitter, herbal and curative.
How to get digestive relief from these tiny bottles of Underberg.
Practical and adorable, the palm-size bottles are wrapped in brown paper and sealed with a twist top. They are perfect for traveling and taking along with you. Bring extra for holiday gatherings — your meal companions will be curious.
Herbs have long played their part in cocktail history, adding complex flavors to liquors along with an element of health. Historically called “spirits” because they were considered medicinal and a cure-all for stomach maladies, bitters are at the root of cocktail making. It follows that a shot of bitters provides some feel good benefit after eating a big meal.
The Underberg recipe is a family secret. It is a blend of herbs and roots of the gentian family, which is explained on the tiny label. Gentian is the key ingredient, but that’s all the family is letting out of the bag. Hundreds of different recognizable spirits and bitters — Campari, Averna, and Angostura Bitters are a few well-known ones — also use gentian because of its bitterness. But gentian is only one part of the Underberg recipe. The ingredients to make Underberg come from 43 different countries.
Gentian plants are completely dug up to harvest the root. The root contains gentiopicroside and amarogentin, two bitter compounds that promote salivation and the production of digestive juices. In addition, the plant’s xanthones, which are yellow antioxidants, provide a golden color to the 44% ABV (alcohol by volume) liquid goodness.
The first time I tasted Underberg was in 2017 at Peche Seafood Grill in New Orleans. It was presented to me as an unopened, mini-bottle along with the exclusive, tall glass that was designed by glassblowers from Murano, Italy for the Paris World Expo in 1867. To me, the elixir tasted like Christmas. Ever since, I have been an unofficial ambassador.
“Komm doch mit auf den Underberg” (Come Along On Our Hike Up Mount Underberg)