If you’re serious about drinking, a piece of advice: go see Kyle Webster. Behind a zinc-topped bar lined with obelisks of melted candlewax, the well-coiffed St. Jack barman is likely to beguile you with ancient spirits, otherworldly flavor combinations, and boundless reserves of cocktail lore and history. In short, this is a man who layers his bitters—a precise incarnation of the Reed College English major turned bartender.
Webster’s most recent fodder for experimentation behind the bar is a wine-based aperitif call Byrrh (pronounced “burr”)—a member of the family of quinine-based spirits called “quinquinas.” Made from a blend of red wine, mistelle (slightly fermented grape juice fortified with brandy), and quinine, Byrrh was invented in 1866, but fell out of fashion over time, and wasn’t imported to Oregon until this summer. Webster fell hard: “It was poured into a glass, I tasted it, and it was fantastic,” he recalls. With its herbal bite and subtle sweetness, it fit neatly into his ongoing quest to dry cocktails out without adding citrus. And when he challenged himself to create a cocktail with a foundation of scotch—not his liquor of choice—Byrrh was a natural counterpoint. “It enlivens and enriches what the scotch is doing, and it gives it a body that most cocktails don’t have.”
The Voleur, French for “thief,” was his answer: robust but not boozy, with an herbal sweetness, it’s perfect as an aperitif or digestif. It won’t blunt your palate before your meals, and it won’t make you go cross-eyed after a couple glasses of wine. The recipe is, admittedly, slightly advanced for the home bartender—you can always make like the French and sip Byrrh by itself over ice. Or you can sidle up at Webster’s bar for a firsthand education.