Underberg was completely unknown to us until I discovered a mysterious box of these 4″ high little bottles at the New Hampshire liquor outlet and rest stop on 95 on the way back from Maine last year. I was instantly mystified by the packaging art – see the photo below (that’s no moon) and with both Paul and myself being fond of bitters, was curious if these could be used in cocktails. When the woman at the register saw my purchase, she looked very surprised and asked me if I was a long time Underberg fan. I admitted I’d never heard of it before and was just buying it on a whim. She quietly let me know that she didn’t know much about it either, but that just a week earlier a man came rushing to her register with his arms full of Underberg boxes, elated to have found it, claiming it had been impossible for him to find for years. He bought out their entire stock. It was at this point I wondered if I’d accidentally stumbled upon a secret Underberg society.
Once back home, some Googling revealed that Underberg is not at all intended for mixing, but a formula of German digestif bitters to be enjoyed, “After a good meal… to feel bright and alert.” Created in 1846 by Hubert Underberg, these bitters have long been trusted by overindulgent eaters all over the world. The recipe is of course patented and secret, but labeled as using herbs sourced from 43 countries. It’s also 44% alcohol, but due to its classification as a food product, it’s shockingly easy to order online and also sometimes available at gourmet food shops. Saving your bottle caps allows you to redeem elite Underberg prizes including a little green truck that holds 12 bottles for only 288 caps. There is also a leather belt available for purchase that can be loaded up with digestif ammunition.
The bottles are portioned to be consumed in one shot, not sipped, and it’s best to follow this direction for maximum effect. The unique and complex flavor of Underberg is a little like being knocked over by a glowing orb of medicinal herbs, as illustrated on the package, and as with any herbal recipe over 100 years old, hoisting down a shot may cause you to wince while closing one eye. Once you are past the initial shock however, Underberg quickly and mercifully soothes the discomfort and guilt of overindulgent eating. It’s easy to see why there’s such a fan base for Underberg and now we like to keep a few bottles on hand for emergencies at all times.