When you think of a Swiss cherry liqueur, the clear brandy known as Kirsch may come to mind. In the canton of Graubünden, however, you will find another cherry liqueur that has a brilliant red color known as Röteli. There are at least two types of this alcoholic beverage: Bündner and Churer. During a recent visit to Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland, I picked up a bottle from a local pharmacy.
Perhaps you are familiar with Bündner Röteli, but have you ever tried the one from Chur?
Here are 10 facts about Churer Röteli, many of which also apply to the Bündner version:
1. Fresh vs. dried cherries – Bündner Röteli is typically made with dried cherries, while the one from Chur is generally made with fresh cherries.
2. A stronger beverage – At 26 percent, the Röteli made in Chur often has a higher alcohol by volume than a Bündner Röteli. In comparison, the Bündner Röteli from Kindschi has an alcohol by volume of 22 percent.
3. Ingredients – Along with cherries, a typical Bündner Röteli contains water, alcohol, sugar, herbs and spices and cherry juice. To contrast, the bottle I purchased from the Drogerie am Martinsplatz in Chur lists the following ingredients: fruit brandy, sugar syrup, cherries, spices and blueberry juice. It ages for a period of about three months. The spice mix—which can include cinnamon, cloves, star anise or ginger, among others—is a closely guarded secret.
4. An ancient tradition – The first written evidence of Röteli dates back to 1909, although it may likely have started earlier, in either the 19th or even the 18th century.
5. Ringing in the New Year – In Graubünden, the custom is to drink Röteli on New Year’s Eve. Long ago, during the wee hours of the New Year, young men would visit the homes of eligible young women. During the visit, the men would receive a glass of Röteli along with something sweet, like Birnbrot (pear bread) or Totenbeinli (hazelnut biscuits). Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse describes the cherry liqueur as a “love elixir” in this capacity, or a “wedding harbinger.”
6. Pharmacies make it – When I arrived in Chur, I knew to be on the lookout for Röteli, but I did not expect to find it in a pharmacy. Why are pharmacies making a liqueur? I asked at the Drogerie am Martinsplatzat if it has any medicinal properties. The pharmacists laughed a bit at my question. Patrick Stebler of Drogerie Stebler explained in a 2014 article in Churer Magazin that pharmacies started making it because they had the authority to sell alcohol, and the practice has continued over time. Also, he said that pharmacies used to be a bit more like grocery stores than they are today.
7. How to drink Röteli – According to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, shots of Röteli are popular in ski lodges. If you would prefer a mixed drink, you could try FOOBY‘s recipe for a Bündner Spritz, which mixes this liqueur with Prosecco and mineral water. Helvetic Kitchen has also shared a recipe for a Bündner Rivella, which pairs Röteli with this very Swiss soda made with whey.
Personally, I like Churer Röteli (one-third) mixed with Coca-Cola (two-thirds) and a slice of lemon for a boozy version of Cherry Coke.
8. Spiking desserts – Another popular way to enjoy this liqueur is in a dessert, often involving fruit. For example, here is a recipe for Soufflé Glace mit Bündner Röteli und Rötelibirnen (a frozen mousse dessert with Röteli-poached pears), shared by SRF (Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen).
9. A warming beverage on a cold evening in the mountains – When the Riklin brothers, Frank and Patrick, opened the second iteration of their Null Stern Hotel (zero-star hotel) in Graubünden in 2016, they had a bottle of Röteli on hand for their guests. These conceptual artists created an outdoor hotel without any walls or ceiling in the mountains. You can imagine that a shot of the local cherry liqueur would be a fitting nightcap.
10. Where to find Churer Röteli – In the city of Chur, there are at least two local drugstores that sell it:
- swidro – Drogerie am Martinsplatz, St. Martinsplatz 8, 7001 Chur
- Drogerie Stebler, City Shop, Quaderstrasse 8, 7001 Chur
- Bündner Röteli, Churer Röteli, Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse (Culinary Heritage of Switzerland)
- Mit einem Schluck Churer Röteli auf ein gutes neues Jahr, Churer Magazin (2014).
- Zeit für den süssen Churer Röteli, Suedostschweiz (2010).