Thursday, September 24, 2009
Underberg Enjoyed By the Glass in Brooklyn
I don't know whether it's a nod to its dedication to German cuisine, or classic cocktails, or both, but Prime Meats, the Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, bar and restaurant, has taken to serving Underberg bitters by the glass.
You know Underberg. It's that little tiny bottle in the green and white label. It comes from Germany, where it's been manufactured as a digestif and curative since 1846. The bottles are single serving only and meant to be downed in one gulp at the end of the meal. The potion is made from a selection of the aromatic herbs from 43 countries, and definitely puts the "bitter" in bitters.
Underberg's a kooky little company. They've got their one product and their ride it hard. Promotional literature reads like something you might taken away from an evangelist's tent. (I love how they harp on the fact that it will make you feel "bright and alert," like some 19th century Bavarian schoolchild. Other gems: it works "pleasantly, with a calming effect; as a relaxant in stressful situations"; "The Underberg herbs are a gift of nature.") All of its elements, including shape of the bottle, colour, packaging and the Underberg name are trade marked and copyrighted.
And there's tons of paraphernalia. You can buy an Underberg belt, a Wild West-like item that has holes all around it not for bullets, but little Underberg bottles. When Prime Meats signed on to the Underberg bandwagen, they were given a circular iron rack to rest the bottles in, sort of like the old wire racks that used to hold hard-boiled eggs at some taverns. They were also given a ton of dedicated Underberg glassware. This is an incredibly tall, thin, aperitif glass. It was created by the founder Hubert Underberg, together with glass blowers from Murano, and first displayed at the 1867 World Exposition in Paris. That was a good move by Hubert. There's no mistaking who's enjoying a glass of Underberg at a restaurant. Those beakers stand out a mile.
I watched one diner at Prime Meats order his after-dinner Underberg. The waiter served the towering crystal with care, pouring the black bitter liquid in the small cavity near the top. The patron—it seemed to me—solemnly contemplated the glass for a good 30 seconds, not moving or saying a word. He then seized it by its stem, downed it quickly, and returned the glass to its place. After dabbing his lips with a napkin, he left.
It was impressive, and vaguely continental. It could catch on, folks.