As reported in our Fall Preview covering Chicago, purls will be a feature of the cocktail menu at Analogue, the new bar from Henry Prendergast and Robert Haynes (both of whom cut their teeth at the Violet Hour). Historically from England, a purl is beer with wormwood and other ingredients added to it, presumably to mask the taste of spoiled (or terrible) beer. They went out of style in the 19th century, and it takes some digging to find any information at all about these obscure drinks. This sparked my curiosity, and Prendergast was kind enough to talk about them. For Analogue, the goal was to create something different, and bitter. And they succeeded with both. This is an unusual drink, that is for sure. It’s hard to find another establishment that serves purls, and it’s safe to say that Analogue will be the only place that can boast a purl program.
While chatting, Prendergast mixes the three purls that they plan to serve: strawberry, angelica and allspice; apricot, ginger and cassia; and blackberry, anise and woodruff. Wood-what? Each cocktail consists of a few dashes of wormwood tincture, 1 1/2 ounces of the purl mix and about 4 ounces of beer. The ingredients are gently mixed and served over ice.
I now have three pale pastel-colored drinks in front of me, and they are unlike anything I’ve tried. Nothing close to sweet, but the individual flavors of fruit and spice shine through. And then the wormwood kicks in. They are extremely refreshing, bitter and dry. Though the beer is noticeable, it’s the purl mix that is showcased. The beer just rounds it out more than a soda or tonic would, imparting a gentle malty body. I like them a lot.
Why purls? How did you find something so unusual?
We were looking to do something different with bitters and wormwood. Adding bitter mixtures with a strong grain alcohol base to tonics and sodas just wasn’t working. But when we started mixing the bitters and wormwood with beer, we had something. We really liked the flavor and the strength of it. Then we started researching to see what was out there. We found beer cocktails, mulled beer drinks, possets (a warm beer custard) and purls, which were the most similar to what we are doing because of the wormwood component.
So you weren’t trying to develop a purl, necessarily?
Not really. We were trying to create a super-bitter after-dinner cocktail and liked that malty effervescent flavor that beer was delivering. We liked that more than sodas or tonics, which seemed too light. Since the beer stood up to the [purl] mix, we upped the bitters mixture giving it more of a punch. It echoes a super-hoppy beer but more aggressive. You know, adding hops to beer is like adding bitters to cocktails. So that’s kind of how we came to it.
Tell me a bit about the purling mixtures.
Bitters can be complicated with all kinds of bittering agents, botanicals, fruit, etc. We wanted to take the mystery out of the flavor and simplify the process. Our purling mixtures have three components: a bittering agent, a spice and a fruit. They’re really straightforward so that you’re getting each of the three components head-on. Through trial and error, we found that it works best to make the purling mixture and add the wormwood later, using this super bitter straight wormwood tincture. Adding three dashes to a drink draws more flavor out of the purl mixture and gives the drink that dry, bitter finish.
The mix starts with a very strong neutral grain spirit. We’ll mix in the three components and let it steep. Then we bring it down from 180 to 90 proof by blending in some water and sugar.
What kind of beer are you using?
We haven’t settled on a beer yet. We find that using a light, effervescent, pilsner-y beer gives us a lot more ability to tailor the flavor. Heavier beers lose some of the flavors of the purling mix. We’re currently using Krombacher pilsner, and that works. But it would be nice to get something made special for us to have on tap. We’ve been talking to different breweries [in Chicago].
Well, I really like these purls!
Yeah, we’re psyched about them! We were looking for something with punch and kick, that would hit you kind of hard. I think we found it. I think after work it’s the drink you want — it’s a little fruity up front, but it’s got kick. It’s not as delicate or precious as a cocktail. Still, you get the fruit and spice up front, then the beer, and at the end you get this nice, dry, bitter finish.
Analogue (opening early December)
2523 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
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