Bartenders have long recognized the importance of bitters within the drink-making arsenal, which is why a number of these flavorful liqueurs—like Italy’s Campari and Fernet-Branca, France’s gentian-based aperitifs or even Germany’s Jägermeister—have become standard backbar staples. As cocktail culture continues to evolve, there is plenty of space not only for new iterations on classic styles, but for those historic, bitter liqueurs that are only beginning to find their way into modern drinks.
Becher Bottom Dollar
The Czech Republic’s Becherovka is a prime example of the latter category. Though it’s only been on American shelves since 2011, it debuted in 1807 as “Becher’s English Bitter” in Carlsbad, Czech Republic, having been created by pharmacist and nascent mixologist Josef Vitus Becher.
Featuring over two dozen herbs and spices, Becherovka offers prominent cinnamon, clove and ginger characteristics. It’s spicy, herbal, slightly floral and medicinal and offers a honeyed, lingering and bitter sweetness. Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters and Amaro, admires the spirit for being an “older, wiser and more sophisticated alternative to its cinnamon-y cousin Fireball.”
Whereas Fireball is rarely mixed into drinks, Becherovka has grabbed the attention of some of today’s top bartenders, who praise it for its versatility; it can be served as a mixer, chilled, neat, or as an aperitif or digestif. Says Portland, Oregon’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler, “We love Becherovka because, while it’s a pretty straightforward cinnamon and clove liqueur with just the right amount of sweetness, it also has a bitter backbone, which really works well in cocktails.” Echoing the sentiment, Allen Katz of New York Spirits offers a welcome music analogy: “The way a musician might consider how the embouchure colors the sound and texture of an instrument, Becherovka offers a soothing depth and dimension to cocktails.”
While the most famous Becherovka cocktail may very well be the Beton—created in 1967, the drink is essentially a twist on the Gin & Tonic, with Becherovka standing in as the base spirit—it can be an elegant mixer in modern drinks, too, especially when used as a substitute for simple syrup or sweetener. In The Incredible Kenosha Hulk, a shaken mix of Becherovka, bourbon and lime, served on the rocks, it tempers the bourbon’s maple and vanilla notes, while adding hints of ginger and cinnamon.
Likewise, in Nate Dumas’ The Lonesome Hero, Becherovka and cherry liqueur stand in for vermouth in a rye-based, especially bright twist on the Manhattan. And, though it could certainly hold its own in a Daiquiri, or take the place of triple sec in the Sidecar or the Cosmopolitan, it’s equally welcome in a toddy variation, stirred together with honey syrup and lemon and lengthened with hot water.
“It’s one of the world’s true unsung heroes of the bibulous world,” says Dante’s Naren Young, who suggests trying Becherovka with aged spirits, like whiskey, tequila and rum. “[It’s] a truly delicious spirit that deserves some more airplay.”