When I reflect on the year in spirits, I wonder if I am looking back at 2012 or 1912. I mean, just the other evening, I was pouring an aperitif from a bottle of the bitter French gentian liqueur Suze while I read the newspaper. (Yes, a print edition.) It was Pablo Picasso’s 1912 collage “Verre et bouteille de Suze” come to life on my kitchen table.
Suze, created in 1885, has been a French cafe standard for more than a decade, owned by giant Pernot Ricard, but it has been absent in the United States until this year.
Suze wasn’t the only trip back to another century in 2012. In fact, Suze wasn’t even the first previously unavailable French aperitif to reappear.
In the spring, I got my first taste of the odd, biblical-ish-named byrrh. Byrrh is a quinquina, a red-wine-based, low-proof aperitif with a measure of quinine made from a 125-year-old Languedoc-Roussillon recipe. Close in taste to Dubonnet, byrrh has richer, more portlike aromas and flavors — notably ripe berries and herbs — and a balancing bitterness to the fruit. I mixed it with cognac and kirsch in the old-timey Byrrh Cocktail, one of my favorite drinks of the year.