The Mystery of Hercules

Angler Cocktail

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters.
2 Dashes Orange Bitters. (1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters 1 Dash Fee’s Orange Bitters)
1/3 Hercules. (3/4 oz Spice infused Dubonnet Rouge)
2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Beefeater Dry Gin)

Shake (stir, please) well and strain into cocktail glass. (Garnish with a lemon twist.)

Embarrassing cocktail geekery: In his book, “Cocktails: How to make them” Robert Vermeire notes, “This cocktail is very popular in Bohemia and Czecho-Slovakia. It was introduced by V.P. Himmelreich.” Also, instead of Hercules, he calls for “Vantogrio”, which he describes as, “a local non-alcoholic Syrup.” No idea about the nature of “Vantogrio”. Vermeire suggests garnishing the cocktail with a lemon twist, which seems like a fine idea to me.

Hercules is the first completely puzzling ingredient we come across in the Savoy Cocktail Book.

To this day no one has turned up an unopened bottle and only a few details have been discovered regarding what sort of ingredient it might have been or what it might have tasted like.

Up until relatively recently many of the leading lights of the cocktail scene, based on some information in Stan Jones’ “Jones’ Complete Bar Guide,” had assumed that Hercules was an “Absinthe Substitute.”

While we don’t know whether that is the case, or to what extent it may be true, recently, over on the “Hercules, Absinthe Substitute? Red Wine Aperitif?” topic on eGullet.org advertisements and other information have been uncovered giving us a few additional pieces of the puzzle.

We have discovered conclusive evidence it was a fortified wine aperitif, spiced, and juiced up with Yerba Mate.

Unfortunately, we still have no idea what spices were used, beyond the Yerba-Mate.  So I decided to split the difference and make an aperitif wine fortified using Yerba-Mate infused vodka.  In addition to the Yerba-Mate, I included some of the same spices commonly used in Absinthe. To 1/2 cup of vodka I added: 1 heaping teaspoon Yerba-Mate, 1 teaspoon crushed Anise Seed, 1 teaspoon crushed fennel, 1 crushed star anise. I let this steep for a few hours, filtered it through cheesecloth, and added it to a bottle of Dubonnet Rouge I had in the fridge.  Then I left it to sit for a couple days for the flavors to marry. It’s actually not bad. Fairly Absinthe-like. Maybe a bit heavy on the fennel.

The cocktail itself ain’t bad. To me the Spiced Dubonnet is still a little flat. I’m tempted to add a touch of citrus zest or maybe fresh red wine to liven it up.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

4 thoughts on “The Mystery of Hercules

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  3. I’m curious about the ‘evidence’ for Hercules being a wine-and-herbal yerba-mate drink. Some years ago I thought I found ‘evidence’ that it was a very strong Welsh beer, ie: there was a brand with that name. Since then I have concluded that Hercules was a British version of absinthe, or possibly Czech absinthe bottled here. Vantogrio was certainly Czech. My guess is that it was a non-alcoholic anise-flavoured syrup. But Hercules just has to be strong…

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