A new herbal, gentian-flavoured aperitif from Slovakia. By Dan Bignold.
What is it? A wine and grape juice-based aperitif, bottled at 13 per cent abv, flavoured with herbs and honey, which has been created in Slovakia by Joseph Benji Benian, a Slovak bar entrepreneur. The promotional material claims a link to a centuries-old recipe created by Benedictine monks, which links Bentianna to the grand European tradition of herbal elixirs concocted behind the walls of monasteries. It’s also given a bitter backbone thanks to gentian, which, given Suze’s current resurgence, could be the characteristic that’ll grab bartenders’ attentions.
How is it made? It starts with 13 different honeys, including dark mountain honey, which is fermented with water. There are then 13 herbal ingredients, including wild thyme, lemon balm echinacea, plus the root of yellow gentian. Some are infused during the honey fermentation; some are macerated at the next step, with tokay wine; and some are macerated in 62 per cent abv eau-de-vie. The final ingredient is unfermented grape juice from two varietals used for tokay wine – furmint and muscatel – and then the resulting blend is rested in wine barrels for 6-12 months.
How does it taste? A much richer, grape-driven profile compared to Suze (which enters with bitter citrus, followed by a slow-building, earthy gentian finish), the Bentianna pushes honey and sweet, brandy-like macerated fruit notes on the nose. The taste is much fresher though, with a crystalline mouthfeel over ice and the unfermented grape juice balancing the herbs mid-palate, and honey sweetness lending the gentian elegance in the finish. Harmonious, versatile and on its way into many more drinks in the near future.