A well-known Swiss herbal liqueur, from the Appenzell and Luzern regions of Switzerland, recently came to my attention in several ways, so I had to finally try it…
First, I saw Appenzeller Alpenbitter mentioned via Newly Swissed. A former bartender that worked in the Bernese Oberland wrote that Swiss customers decided whether they liked someone based on their facial expression after taking a shot of this 58-proof beverage. This description made it seem like a litmus test for determining if you are truly Swiss! Then I started seeing bottles of Appenzeller Alpenbitter on my Instagram feed, including fan photos of it among the Swiss Alps, at Ayers Rock in Australia and even as an ingredient in homemade soap. Finally, I checked what I consider to be the ultimate source for determining a Swiss food — the inventory of traditional products from Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse. And, yes — Alpenbitter appears on the list.
After hearing me talk about it, my husband brought home a few mini-bottles for me to taste. I emptied a bottle into a glass filled with ice and slowly sipped this strong drink while doing some background reading to learn more…
Alpenbitter is the term that generally refers to a dark liqueur seasoned with herbs and having an alcohol content of about 30 percent. In Switzerland, there are different types and brands of Alpenbitter — such as Luzerner Alpenbitter or Glarner Alpenbitter, but the Appenzeller Alpenbitter is arguably the most famous, with Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse reporting that it’s sometimes referred to as the Swiss national drink. My very informal poll of a few Swiss friends — both from the French and German-speaking sides of Switzerland — made this beverage seem less popular, however. Although, all had heard of it and most had tried it at least once.
According to the company that makes Appenzeller Alpenbitter, only two people know the secret blend of 42 herbs used in its preparation. The beverage was first developed by Emil Ebneter back in 1902, and at the time, doctors claimed it offered some medical benefits. Even today, a description of Appenzeller on Coop’s website claims that “it promotes good digestion, circulation and a general feeling of well-being.” I have heard it described as having a medicinal taste, and I somewhat agree.
Drinking and Cooking with Alpenbitter
To be honest, I have never tried Jägermeister, but there are comparisons made between this German digestif and Alpenbitter. Alpenbitter is also used as a digestif, but one producer told Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse that it’s more commonly consumed as an apéritif in Western or French-speaking Switzerland. From my experience, I have never seen, nor have been I offered any kind of Alpenbitter during my nearly four years in Western Switzerland. Until this week…
For me, Appenzeller Alpenbitter has a strong anise scent and taste, mixed with other herbal flavors that I cannot put a name to. I had it on the rocks, but would not enjoy drinking it warm and straight. The Appenzeller website has several other drink suggestions that look interesting, as well as some sweet and savory recipes, including a cake made with 250 ml (about one cup) of this very fragrant liqueur that I may need to try.
- Alpenbitter, Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse
- Guided Tours, Appenzeller Alpenbitter
- 10 Appenzell Foods You Must Try, Newly Swissed
What’s your opinion of Alpenbitter? Do you have a bottle at home? If so, how often do you drink it? Please leave a comment below or send me an email. Many thanks!