I guess a traditional thing to do on liquor blogs is to take an odd-ball from the shelf (or a new one) and give it a spin, with some tasting notes. A the moment, i don't really have much in the way of tastebuds (i have a bit of a cold), but i wanted to write something about this one liquor that i haven't seen on anyone's liquor shelf (or discussed on any blogs) - at least in the united states.
The liquor is called China Martini - and it came in a metal box that had an actual working analog clock on it! China Martini is made from cinchona bark and apparently rice alcohol (though i have no way of confirming that), and its a kind of bitters (i guess) which tastes and feels a bit like Jagermeister - very sweet dark and rich. Cinchona bark it turns out is loaded with quinine - and the bark was used in many cases to help cure malaria (or its symptoms?). (An interesting aside - see wikipedia's notes on cinchona bark's role in the birth of homeopathic medicine). Hard to know exactly how to mix it in with anything, so i'll try and do that at some time. The reason it's a relatively rare find in the U.S. is because it's not sold in the U.S. at all - i only got it from a friend who went to Italy for the summer. Even there, i doubt it's hugely popular.
I did find a few funny youtube videos advertising it from a long time ago, which you might enjoy:
Isn't it a really catchy song? If only i knew what they were saying. The first one is particularly funny because China Martini is rumored to be an elixir prescribed in China - and the italian woman on the left is obviously supposed to look chinese (her dress, hair and eyebrows are supposed to be the clue i guess). Incidentally, China Martini is made by Martini & Rossi. Also, if someone happens to have a european cocktail book that has a recipe for China Martini, that would be really cool.
Some random guy from england, commenting on an online italian food store, suggests that this tastes great when mixed with a little italian brandy - or in espresso. who knew?
After a bit of my own research, it turns out that China Martini has a cousin. Cinchona bark is essentially the same thing as Calisaya bark - and there is (was?) a liqueur called Calisaya. (In fact, calisaya is a variety of cinchona that has the highest amount of quinine). www.cocktaildb.com has a list of 6 drinks that call for Calisaya/China Martini. They are as follows:
Montauk Riding Club Cocktail
Now, upon looking closer at the cocktails, it appears that either Calisaya isn't so similar to China Martini, OR these are some of the worst thought-out drinks i've ever read. The drink "Calisaya" for instance calls for adding 1 dash of Angostura to a "glass" (it says 1/2 oz??) of Calisaya. But of course, if Calisaya is anywhere near as pungent as China Martini, you would never really taste the Angostura. "Good Fellow" is basically a 1/2 and 1/2 manhattan made with bourbon - and it calls for a dash each of Angostura and Calisaya. Which really doesn't make a lick of sense. We'll see if some online experts can make heads or tails of this. Perhaps an update!