Hercules remains, more or less, a mystery.
To summarize, for many years because of a description in Stan Jones’ Barguide which called it an Absinthe substitute, it was thought to be exactly that. Something like Ricard or Pernod.
However, when I started making these Savoy recipes, none of them made taste sense when made with Pernod or Ricard. They were just awful.
About this time, I saw an advertisement that popped up from time to time on the front page of the cocktaildb. It was for a Dutch product called Hercules which was a aromatized and fortified red wine. I made a couple cocktails which call for Hercules with Cocchi’s Barolo Chinato and they made a lot more sense.
I started doing more digging and turned up some advertisements in Google Books for a product called Hercules available at about the same time the Savoy Cocktail Book was published.
HERCULES “HEALTH – COCKTAILS ARE SERVED AT LEADING BARS. “Hercules” can be had plain, when so preferred, or as the chief and most fascinating ingredient…that Create Appetite and Stimulate Digestion “Hercules” Wine Aperitif contains the phenomenal properties of Yerba-Mate, which has won the high opinion…TO TEST “HERCULES” WINE APERITIF send fi/6 for a full-sired bottle, carriage paid.
We will despatch by return. Later supplies must be obtained of Wine…
Instead of being an Absinthe substitute, Hercules turned out to be a wine based aperitif one of whose ingredients was Yerba Mate!
In addition, a London friend, Jeff Masson asked around about it. Turned out that a friend of his was acquainted with some of the ex-Savoy bartenders. While the most recent bartender didn’t recall Hercules, his predecessor at the bar did!
Did a little more research into this mystery ingredient but found nothing amazing.
I spoke to a friend who knows Peter Dorelli, the former head bartender of the Savoy, very well. I asked him to find out what he could.
Peter had never tasted the ingredient but called his former head bartender, Joe Gilmore, who is now around 85!
He remembered Hercules quite well and described it as a cross between an aperetif and a bitters. It was light pink in colour and bore no resemblance to Absinthe. He didn’t have any real suggestions for a substitute but mentioned Dubonnet would not be appropriate.
Not conclusive but quite interesting.
OK, a bitter wine based aperitif flavored with Yerba Mate.
Current try at reproduction:
1 bottle Navarro White Table Wine
1/4 cup Yerba Mate
1 tablespoon Gentian
Dried Peel from 1 Seville Orange
1/2 stick Ceylon Cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Havana Club 8 Year Rum
Method: Combine all ingredients other than rum, bring to 140 degrees for 10 minutes. Strain off solids, cool, and add rum. Refrigerate.
I purposely kept this simple, to try and get more of a feel for appropriate taste combinations with the Yerba Mate. Initial thoughts are that it has too much gentian to be drunk on it’s own for pleasure. But it’s close. Tasting other vermouth I have around, I find many seem to have more culinary herbs in the middle flavors than this. Might have to experiment with including some thyme, mint, or oregano next time. I’m also not sure if the color came from the wine or if it was colored, so skipped that for the time being. Since most vermouth is made on a white wine base, I would guess it was colored, perhaps with cochineal or similar.
New Life Cocktail
1/4 Hercules. (1/2 oz “Hercules”)
1/4 Bacardi Rum. (1/2 oz Montecristo Rum)
1/2 Cointreau. (1 oz Cointreau)
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.
That’s a lot of Cointreau, but every other recipe for the New Life I can find uses the same proportions, so I guess it isn’t a typo.
While it is sweet, it is kind of tasty. However, drinking it, I was reminded of the unique flavors of Armazem Viera’s Esmeralda Cachaca. Remaking it with Cachaca instead of the Montecristo rum did make for a much more interesting cocktail. Interesting that these two South American flavors would compliment each other.
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.