Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the Amari file: Braulio

A chef friend of mine has a modern translation of a cookbook from several centuries past, when vast numbers of staff worked in stone kitchens to provide enormous feasts for feudal lords and their host. The text is notable for its recipes, of course, but my friend is most taken with the descriptions of the prep work involved. Long before KitchenAid and Frigidaire there were people who set to work sourcing cauldrons big enough to accomodate the soup intended for a hall full of vassals. Or servants who left on expeditions for ice. The ice was a bit tricky back then, you see. Teams had to travel to "the north," they had to cut the blocks with hand tools, and then they had to pull those cut blocks back home with rope. It would take awhile. One quote in the book listed a time frame measured in months. I imagine a typical recipe progressing like so:

what you'll need to do to prepare
first, assemble your men to collect the ice

wait 5 months

second, chip the ice into small cubes...

It rather does make a quick, thrown together meal difficult, doesn't it?

I think about this when I drink a glass of Braulio. Braulio is an alpine amaro from Lombardia. Quite a good one, actually. The vintage Braulio has a dry, firm character and can exhibit stewed beets greens and a long lasting, cooling menthol note on the finish. I have taken the liberty to tell you what Braulio tastes like because if you are an American, the chances are pretty good that you haven't tried Braulio for yourself. It's not imported to the States. Which is a shame. Because with Braulio we have a very good family of amari that have a long history (with the original recipe developed in 1875), which begin their life as grapes (instead of beet based liquor), which see significant oak age (as opposed to significant caramel coloring), and which are flavored with locally picked herbs (that's right, regional!). Yet despite the high quality and the high regard within Italy, it can take awhile to find oneself in front of a bottle of Braulio in this country. I know this, as I once spent about a year assembling a collection of about 35 amari samples for a venue in New York, and guess what? No Braulio.

It is perhaps true that this tablecloth (visible to the right of the bottle) and this bottle label were really meant for each other. Funny how things work out like that sometimes.
So I was pretty excited when my friend Kevin returned recently from Switzerland with a bottle of Braulio "Riserva" 2007 and put that prize right in my hands. It was as if the ice guys of lore had decided to make an extra run just for the heck of it, and were back with the cool blocks right as the summer heat started to really come up. Excellent! Cheers for everybody! Or at least that was the thought. I certainly didn't waste any time opening up the bottle of 2007.

And I got luckier still when another friend of mine, Liz, recently shared with me tastes of both the "Riserva" 2005 and also the normal release Braulio.
The Riserva Braulio is released in 750ml bottles, while this bottle of Braulio normale was in a 1L format. I found the normale bottling sweeter to the taste and less complex than the Riservas that I tried.

The 2005 Riserva had a cloudier color than the 2007 that I tried, and it also seemed to me that the flavors of the 2005 were less distinct. It had a similar profile, though, and the alcohol level was the same. The Riservas are bottled at 24.7% alc., while the normale is 21%.

A closeup of the scroll on the front label of a bottle of Braulio. "Braulio" is the name of a mountain near the town of Bormio (in the Valtellina) in which the Braulio amari are produced. The Braulio distillery also makes grappa.

A look at the back label of the Braulio normale, for those who speak Italian. Some of the ingredients used to make Braulio amari include juniper berries, gentian, and musk yarrow. These are air dried and then pressed before being added to the liquid. The Riservas are aged in wood for an extra period of time past that which the normale is aged before bottling.

For those making their own journey out for Braulio, the cellars of the distillery are located under the small mountain town of Bormio. The owners of the distillery also operate a tasting bar in that town, and perhaps best of all, they offer distillery tours. The bar is located on Via Roma. You can see a video visit to the distillery on Youtube here. You can visit the website of the Peloni family, who make Braulio, here. The Braulio website is here, but it is only in Italian.

Good luck in your search. Don't forget the ice.

1 comment:

joel said...

I have a stash of this stuff as I generally have asked for 1btl to be kindly carried back by about 25% of friends coming back from eruope and 75% of them get it done, good peeps

and yes, it;s for sharing