Despite the fact that my metabolism has been steadily slowing over the past few years, I still overeat. I've been known to close down one all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, drive around all night looking for another, and finally wind up fishing. It's a sickness. Thank God for Underberg.
I was first introduced to this miracle of medicinal alcohol at Grand Prize Bar, where a chef friend who's fond of bitter digestifs kept insisting that we do bombs of the stuff, bought by the tiny bottle out of the GPB vending machine. The tiny, 20ml brown bottle itself warns that Underberg is "not to be sipped," so I suppose that the bombs were perfectly appropriate, the Red Bull chaser, not so much.
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Underberg is not like other bitters. It's not meant to be, either. While most are formulated as beverages that aid digestion, Underberg's intentions are solely medicinal, and that shows through in the taste. Even when slugged back, the flavors are bracing. Raw cinnamon (you'd think I'd have been well equipped to handle that one), licorice, menthol, and eucalyptus scream at you, and a raw alcohol burn claws its way down your throat. A whole host of unidentifiable bitter and astringent notes buzz in the background, like the low-level electric shock you got when you licked both terminals of a battery that one time when you were 12. Underberg's intense flavors and 44 percent alcohol pack a mighty wallop.
Despite all that, it is utterly beguiling. Part of that is the slight rush it gives you. More important, though, is the fact that it actually works. I've taken to keeping some in my liquor cabinet, for those not-so-rare moments when I've eaten too much.
I last sought the comforts of Underberg a few nights ago, after consuming a sandwich the size of my face. Bloated and remorseful, I pulled the straw paper wrap away from that little brown bottle, emptied the contents into a shot glass, and downed it. That familiar kick hurt so good, like the cold splash of water that sets the drunk-spun room to rights. Within half an hour, I was feeling myself again, and almost ready to go out in search of some dessert.