Broadly there are 11 types of drink that can be made from Sorbi:
- Non-alcoholic fruit juices
- Herbal teas and coffee substitutes
- Ciders – see below – made by fermenting expressed juice
- Ciders made by macerating fruit in water and fermenting
- Ciders made from other fruit with Sorbus fruit or juice added
- Country ‘wines’ using Sorbus fruit.
- Beers with Sorbus fruit or juice added
- Bitters where Sorbus juice is an important ingredient
- Fortified wines flavoured with fruit or juice of Sorbi.
- Spirits such as brandy, vodka, schnapps or gin flavoured with Sorbus fruit or juice
- Spirits distilled from fermented Sorbus fruit.
Most Sorbus fruit contain chemicals that help to clear and preserve other alcoholic drinks and they are important for this as well as for the flavour, astringency, bitterness and extra sugars they add.
I have taken the word ‘cider’ to mean the fermented juice of any fruit. ‘Cider’ did not originally mean a drink made from apples. The word comes from Late Latin sicera, a rendition of the biblical Hebrew shekhar, a word used for any strong drink. Thus perry is quite correctly ‘pear cider’ a point made in the 16th century by French author Charles Estienne: “faire le cidre, pommé, peré, cormé.” (To make apple, pear, service cider.)
Alisier. An eau-de-vie made from wild service berries by fermentation or maceration, followed by distillation and a reduction of alcoholic strength. The drink produced in Alsace by Miclo and called 'alisier' appears to be distilled from whitebeam berries (Sorbus aria): Ce sont les fruits (rouge orangé) de l’alisier blanc qui sont distillés. Another web site says that wild service berries are like blueberries, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in what is on offer.
Alizé. Brand name of a modern Cognac brandy with various versions flavoured with different combinations of fruit juice. The resemblance of the name to ‘alizier’, one of the French words for the wild service, seems to be coincidental.
Aliziergeist. A spirit or eau-de-vie distilled from the berries of the wild service, Sorbus torminalis, in Germany, Austria and Alsace Lorraine. It has a high quality reputation and an element of almond or marzipan in its taste, presumably from the contribution made by the seeds. See Elsbeerenbrand below.
Checker. This old recipe, which describes, perhaps, more of a food than a drink, comes from the Chequers Inn at Smarden in Kent, UK. Checkers or chequers is a local name for the fruit of the wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis). “Pick off in bunches in October. Hang on string like onions (look like swarm of bees) hang till ripe. Cut off with scissors close to checkers (do not pull out). Put in stone glass jars. Put sugar on 1lb-5lb checkers. Shake up well. Keep airtight until juice comes out to top. The longer kept the better. Can add brandy. Then eat.”
Chequered Past beer. A drink brewed in 2009/10 by Bob Mitchell, landlord of The Chequers pub at Little Gransden in Huntingdonshire. He used spelt wheat, honey and wild service fruit (Sorbus torminalis) in this attempt to create what he believed was a long lost drink associated with Chequers pubs. While English beer may have been flavoured or brewed with wild service berries or juice, especially before the general use of hops, Mitchell is essentially conflating two ideas (1) that chequer trees were associated with Chequers inns and (2) that wild service berries were associated with beer. The first is true of some Chequers pubs, though the reason uncertain, the second largely derives from the notion that ‘service’, as used for species of Sorbus, is a corruption of Latin cerevisia meaning beer (which it is not).
Cider from Alisier de Fontainebleau. The service tree of Fontainbleau, Sorbus latifolia, is well-known from the Forest of Fontainebleau near Paris, France, but grows elsewhere in Europe and is widely naturalised. It may have originated as a hybrid between Sorbus torminalis and S. aria. In the 1838 Encyclopédie du Dix-Neuvième Siècle. Vol 2. (Bureau de l'Encyclopédie du XIX Siècle, Paris) it says of this tree "A Fontainebleau, où ils abondent,on en fait une espèce de cidre. This is an interesting observation as it implies that in France different kinds of 'cider' could, and probably were, made from any brown or orange fruited species of Sorbus.
Cormé. Cormé, also known as ‘boisson de cormes’ is a drink once made widely in France and Switzerland from true service fruit, Sorbus domestica, that are just ripening, but still firm. These are crushed and mixed with water and fermented in barrels to make a cider-like beverage that is drunk young. It was often regarded as a drink for poor people who could not afford wine. It has also been called sorbium and vin de cormier. There does not seem to be any appreciable production today, though there are some who remember the drink in the mid-20th century.
Randle Cotgrave (1611) in his Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues said it was "A drinke, or wine made of the sorbe apple; it surpasses in goodness Perrie, or Cider; and comes neerest, of any of those kinds, unto white wine."
A rather puzzling aspect is that true service trees do not seem to have been common enough to produce any substantial quantity of cormé and it also is generally described as not keeping well, so it may have been a brief seasonal delight.
It is generally agreed that the word for ‘beer’ in the old Celtic Gaulish language of France was curmi. This is usually regarded as cognate with cormé. The various ramifications of this have engendered a lengthy debate amongst linguists and beer experts
In North Wales rowan berries were fermented in water to make diod griafol (rowan drink) which John Evelyn, the 17th C author famous for his writings on trees (as well as his diary), said was ‘an incomparable drink’. This it may well have been, but Evelyn was very fond of the word ‘incomparable’, so caution in regard to the quality of this beverage is advised, though it was undoubtedly alcoholic and, according to some of the sources cited below, could be very good.
In his Papers (1814-17) John Macculloch wrote “A liquor is brewed from the berries of the mountain ash, in North Wales called diod griàfol, by only crushing and putting water to them. After standing for a fortnight it is fit for use, its flavour somewhat resembles perry.”See: http://www.archive.org/stream/papersmacculloch00maccrich#page/n1/mode/2up
I have seen several descriptions like this and they do seem to have been copied from an earlier source. They all, for example, say the flavour was like perry.
William Bingley (1804) writing of a visit he made to the Snowdon area of North Wales between 1798 and 1801 said "I observed near a cottage in Cwm Llan, that several children were employed in gathering the berries of the mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia of Linnaeus). On enquiring of the guide to what purpose this was done, he informed me that the Welsh people brew from them a liquor, which they call Diod griafol. This, he said, was done merely by crushing the berries and putting water to them, which, after a fortnight, is drawn off for use. The flavour, as I understand him, was somewhat like that of perry."
Joseph Cradock writing of the Cader Idris area in 1828 says "Being very thirsty with heat and fatigue, I inquired for some goat's milk, but to no purpose; the guide however, informed me that he could procure me from a neighbouring cottage a liquor peculiar to that part of North Wales, which infinitely exceeded Stirom cyder; I tasted it, and found it was made of mountain-ash berries and crabs and sloes; it should remain half a year in the vessel before it is bottled off, and if it were then kept to a proper age it would not be altogether contemptible." This sounds like something different from diod griafol and was perhaps a kind of cider made from the pressed juice of the wild fruits mentioned.
The 'Stirom cyder' mentioned by Cradock is an interesting beverage. John Philips (1791) refers to it in his poem Cider. In a footnote to the line, Charles Dunster writes of stirom that "Cider made of the Stire apple, of which there are great plantations in the Forest of Dean, Glocestershire, is the strongest Cider that is made, and will keep number of years in the highest perfection."
Bucknall (1802) writes that "The Stire Apple was accidentally raised in the Forest of Dean, Glocestershire, and took the name of Forest Stire. The cider made from this apple was the strongest the country ever produced according to any living record."
There is a picture of the forest stire apple on the second page here: http://www.herefordshire.gov.uk/docs/LeisureAndCulture/Forest_Stire_(XII).pdf
Going back to diod griafol, Boulger in Familiar Trees says of the rowan that in Wales “the berries are most commonly only made into an infusion.”
In Doom of the Griffiths, (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1858) Elizabeth Gaskell refers to a liquor called "diod griafol (made from the berries of the Sorbus aucuparia, infused in water and then fermented)”. Mrs Gaskell spent her honeymoon in North Wales staying with her uncle and was therefore likely to have had direct knowledge of this drink.
Finally, Thomas Pennant (1885), writing of the late 18th or early 19th C said, in Welsh "Y dosparth tlotaf o'r trigolion a wnant fath o ddiod o honi, yr hon a elwir diod griafol, trwy ferwi y grawn mewn dwfr." (The poorest class of local people make a kind of drink, which is called diod griafol (rowan drink), by boiling the berries in water.) The word ferwi, a mutation of berwi normally means 'boil', but can mean 'bubble', 'brew', 'ferment' etc. and I suspect Pennant meant the word in the latter sense rather than actual boiling.
It does appear that at one time this drink was widespread and well-known in North Wales, but little information has apparently been recorded about it.
Ebereschengeist. A spirit (Geist) distilled from rowan (Eberesche) berries in Germany and probably elsewhere. About 40% alcohol by volume.
Ebereschensaft or Ebereschen-Nektar. There are several recipes for ‘rowan juice’. Essentially they involve freezing and boiling the fresh or dried berries and, sometimes, adding sugar. A non-alcoholic rowanberry juice called Ebereschen-Nektar “with many valuable bioactive substances” is marketed under the brand name ‘Silva Sana’ from Naheland along the Saar river in Germany.
Elsbeerbrand is the same as Elsbeerenbrand and Aliziergeist q.v., the spirit distilled from wild service fruit (Sorbus torminalis) in Germany and Alsace . It has an aroma reminiscent of marzipan, no doubt from the almond-smelling cyanide in the seeds. It is a colourless liquid with a distinctive bouquet, very strong and, to my palate, somewhat harsh and dry. The Grand Larousse encyclopaedia, however, praises the drink highly describing it as "très rare, d'une exquise delicatesse .... très parfumée". Other names include eau d'alizier, alisier, or alysier . It has also been described as the Queen of Drinks.
Elsbeerenbrand. Fruit spirit or eau-de-vie traditionally produced from the wild service (Sorbus torminalis) in Lower Austria and virtually identical to Elsbeerbrand above. For the production of the spirit the berries are mashed and fermented by adding water and yeast at a temperature of about 20o C. The double-distilled fruit spirit (about 60% vol. ethyl alcohol) is diluted with distilled water as the minimum alcohol content by volume has to be 42%. After that, the fruit spirit is stored for maturing under dark and not too warm conditions for at least one year. Elsbeerenbrand has a distinct smell resembling almonds. It is an great speciality as the amount available is limited by the fact that the trees have long intervals without fruiting usually only delivering a good harvest only every 7 years with 100 litres of mash yielding only 3 litres of fruit spirit.
Eau de vie d’alizier. A spirit, the same as Elsbeerbrand, distilled from fruit of the wild service. La boutique du Musée des Eaux de Vie de Lapoutroie who make it say it is a rare spirit with a nutty or bitter almond taste and that it goes well with pistachio ice cream. http://www.musee-eaux-de-vie.fr/shop/detail.php?article=134
Eau de vie d’alisier blanc. A spirit distilled from fruit of the whitebeam (Sorbus aria). La boutique du Musée des Eaux de Vie de Lapoutroie say the fruit of the whitebeam (l’alisier blanc) is good for distillation and have, presumably, made some
Eau de vie d’alisier de Fontainebleau. A spirit distilled from fruit of the service tree of Fontainebleau (Sorbus latifolia). La boutique du Musée des Eaux de Vie de Lapoutroie say the fruit of the Fontainebleau service (Sorbus latifolia; l’alisier de Fontainebleau) is good for distillation and have, presumably, made some.
Eau de vie d’alisier de Mougeot. A spirit distilled from fruit of Mougeot’s whitebeam (Sorbus mougeotii). La boutique du Musée des Eaux de Vie de Lapoutroie say the fruit of Mougeot’s whitebeam (l’alisier de Mougeot) is good for distillation and have, presumably, made some.
Eau de vie de cormes. Les Vergers de Fanny (Fanny’s Orchards) in the Sarthe Department, N W France, make an eau de vie from true service fruit (Sorbus domestica) which they describe as “la plus suptile (sic) et la plus originale l'eau de vie de Cormes.”
Eau de vie de sorbier de oiselleurs. A spirit distilled from fruit of the rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) by La boutique du Musée des Eaux de Vie de Lapoutroie. Alcohol volume 43%.
Gammel Dansk. Rowan berries are an important ingredient in the Danish bitters called ‘Gammel Dansk’ which also contains a wide range of herbs and spices. This is a popular drink in Denmark though it was only created in 1964.
Jarzebiak. A Polish dry fruit vodka of “rectified spirits, quality wine distillates, infusion of dried tropical fruits and with extracts of rowan berries (Sorbus aucuparia) picked after the first frost. There are numerous variants of this available from Poland.
Jarcebinka. A Czech rowan-based, often bitter-tasting spirit drink, essentially a vodka flavoured with rowan berries or their juice.
Liqueur d'alise. See wild service liqueur below.
Liqueur de fruits de l'alisier domestique (cormier). A drink made by steeping true service fruit (Sorbus domestica) in a 50:50 mixture of vodka (alcool blanc) and water, with sugar, vanilla and chopped almonds added. It is kept for several months before drinking. See: http://www.chezmamy.com/content/view/44/27/
Marc de Alisier. An eau de vie sold by the Belgian firm Dulst who describe it as "Marc de Alisier - Dom Klur - Elsbessenboom Geestrijke drank, EAU DE VIE". Elsbessenboom is a Flemish word for the wild service tree, but the drink may be made elsewhere than Belgium - in Lorraine, France for example.
Mountain ash wine. An American recipe for a mountain ash 'wine' using the fruit of Sorbus americana, S. decora, S. scopulina or S. sitchensis is given by Jack Keller at http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/mtnash.asp It seems much like European country wines made with Sorbus aucuparia fruit.
Pihlakavein. An Estonian drink, literally ‘rowan wine’. It is made by pressing the juice from the crushed fruit and fermenting it. Some pihlakavein has the alcohol percentage of sherry or port and must therefore be fortified with a spirit, maybe vodka or brandy, or even the spirit distilled from fermented rowan berries. Pihlakavein seems to have a good reputation in Estonia unlike the rather similar Sorbus (q.v.), a Finnish fortified wine flavoured with rowan juice. http://www.disainistuudio.ee/pages/film/filmsource/pihlakavein.html
Rowanberry coffee. Roasted rowanberries are said to make an excellent coffee (unlikely). Houbrechts (1996)writes “Pour boiling water over one tablespoon of berries and let steep for ten minutes.”
Rowanberry syrup. This is a syrup that is commonly used in Russia to flavour vodka-based drinks. It also makes a tasty and rather different topping for pancakes and waffles. Salt is included to counteract the bitterness.
Rowanberry wine. A traditional British country wine made by fermenting rowanberries (Sorbus aucuparia) with grape juice, lemons, sultanas, ginger and tea.
Rowan blossom tea. A Dutch source suggests that tea made by pouring boiling water over rowan blossoms is good for lung complaints: http://www.boudicca.de/col2-nl.htm
Rowan cider. In the state of Hesse in Germany the fruit of the rowan is used in cider production by a few small ‘Kelterer’ (wine pressers) “in a similar way to the service tree.” This could be analogous to the Estonian pihlakavein (q.v.) or, more likely, to Speierling-Apfelwein (q.v.) from Hesse itself.
Rowan gin. “In Germany the berries are put into Dutch gin.” This line is repeated in many places on the Internet, but I have not yet found and other details.
Rowan punch. John Lightfoot, an 18th century English naturalist who wrote the two volume Flora Scotica published in 1777, said of rowan berries that "in the island of Jura they use the juice as an acid for punch." Scottish punch was/is a sweetened mixture of whiskey diluted with water or cold tea and flavoured with lemon and mint. The rowan berry juice was, perhaps, a substitute for lemons (or vice versa). In some subsequent references to this ‘Jura’ has come out as ‘Java’. See: http://rowanswhitebeamsandservicetrees.blogspot.com/
Rowan schnapps. Danish rowan schnapps is made with fresh, fully ripe rowan berries. It has “a unique, sweet-acid and slightly bitter taste with notes of crab apple, rose hip, and a little strawberry. The colour is pale red.” European Schnapps (spelt Schnaps in German) is distilled from fermented fruit with no added sugar and flavoured afterwards. American schnapps are liqueurs.
The Danish rowan schnapps could be distilled from rowan berries, or made with another spirit and flavoured with rowan berries.
Rjabina Zimnaja. A traditional Belarusian rowan drink. See Ryabina Zimnyaja below.
Ryabina na konyake and Rjabina s Konjakom. A fortified rowan drink from Belarus. It contains water, grain spirit, rowanberry juice drink, sugar, cognac and caramel. 24% to 40% alcohol by volume. See here: http://www.alibaba.com/product-free/104645364/Ryabina_na_konyake_Rowanberry_Brandy.html
Ryabina Zimnyaja. Winter ryabina, a type of Belarusian fortified rowanberry drink which also includes sugar, honey and, so the manufacturers claim, flower pollen. 20% alcohol by volume. http://www.dionis.by/350.html
Sechsämtertropfen. A wild berry liqueur made by Schwarze & Schlichte in Westphalia, Germany. A high proportion of rowan berry juice gives Sechsämtertropfen its characteristic spicy bitter flavour.
Skovlyst Sorbus Ale (festival exclusive) A Danish amber ale with moderate body and bitterness made by Bryggeri Skovlyst for the 2008 European Beer Festival. The beer is brewed with the addition of rowan berry juice, which gives a mild bitterness. Light spicy hop aroma. Alcohol Strength 5.8% vol.
Sorbette. A schnapps distilled in Germany and Austria from the fruit of the true service tree (Sorbus domestica). Since the fruits are difficult to obtain, the price is higher than that of other distilled spirits. The name, however, is said to be French.
Sorbier. An eau-de-vie made by Miclo in Alsace. Although the manufacturers call the fruit 'cormes' (true services), they write of them as though they are rowan berries (sorbier des oiseleurs): Les baies ou cormes sont très appréciées des oiseaux, d’où son nom de sorbier des oiseleurs.
Sorbus. A Finnish sweet fortified wine flavoured with rowan berry juice. It has a somewhat disreputable image. One source describes it as “very popular among winos, street people, punks, skinheads, thugs, troublemakers etc.” There is a Finnish ‘drunk punk’ rock band, Yhdyskuntajäte, who feature a picture of rowan berries on one of their record sleeves and have a track on the disc called ‘Sorbus’ celebrating the drink. The drink was made by Altia between 1935 and 1 January 2011 when its manufacture ceased to the disappointment of some of its fans.
Sorbus ale. See Skovlyst Sorbus Ale.
Speierling-Apfelwein. German cider (Apfelwein), a speciality of Hesse state, with 1-3% juice from true service fruit (sorb apples) added is said to be “one of the most popular varieties of cider” in Germany. It makes the drink “fruity, clear and better keeping”. Quince, blackthorn and rowan fruit juices are also sometimes added to cider in Germany. “Although it is difficult for the non-initiate to detect any difference in the end product, for many people from Hesse this rare supplement of true service juice contributes much to the lore and mystique of the beverage.”
Treutter (2010) points out that apple juice producers in some regions of Germany use the juice of the proanthocyanidin rich Sorbus domestica fruits as a taste improving additive.
Sperbelschnaps. A spirit distilled from the ripe fruit of the true service, Sorbus domestica. It is the same as Sorbette (q.v.).
Speierlingsschnaps. See Sorbette.
Swedish whitebeam drinks. In his Flora Oeconomica Linnaeus wrote that after drying, a spirit could be distilled and a drink brewed from the fruit (Anderberg & Anderberg, 2010). This may have been a kind of schnapps or brännvin as such distilled spirits are known in Sweden.
True service cider (see Speierling-Apfelwein)
Vogelbeerschnaps. A spirit distilled from rowan berries, especially in the Austrian provinces of Tyrol and Styria. It is characterized by “a subtle note of bitter almonds and a distinct, intense, long-lasting flavour. In folk-medicine Vogelbeerschnaps is much valued. It is reputed to be a remedy against common cold, rheumatism, diabetes, kidney and urinary diseases and it is said to stimulate metabolism.”
Vugelbeerschnaps. A spirit distilled from the juice (Saft) of rowan berries. ‘Vugelbeer’ is a German dialect word for the rowan, which is sometimes known in standard German as Vogelbeere or Vogelbeerbaum, literally the ‘bird berry tree’. See here: http://www.lauterbacher-tropfen.de/webshop/shop/gallery/Vuglbeerschnaps-Ullmann-035l-32-Vol.html
Wild service cider. Of wild service fruit Calvel (1831) writes: “On en peut faire de la boisson, soit au pressoir, soit en râpé.” (A drink can be made with the pressed juice or the crushed fruit). The crushed fruit was, presumably, mixed with water, though it would have been possible to distil it. Estienne (1586) also wrote of the wild service that “one can press juice from the pounded and crushed fruit. This is very sweet and like unfermented grape juice but keeps only for ten or twelve days.”
Wild service liqueurs. Several liqueurs or ratafias are, or have been, made using the fruit of the wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis). Generally the fruit are steeped in a jar with brandy or some other spirit, sugar is added and the whole jar kept for an appropriate number of months to allow the flavour of the fruit to infuse into the spirit. Cinnamon and other ingredients are sometimes added. See Checker above.
Whitebeam Berry Gin. Although this is described as as a traditional English drink, I have only ever come across it from one source. It is made by pouring gin over ripe, dried whitebeam berries and allowing them to macerate for at least two months. This, presumably, is the whitebeam equivalent of the rowanberry gin described above and, supposedly, popular in Germany.
Whitebeam berry wine. A British country wine made from ripe whitebeam berries (Sorbus aria) with water, sugar and lemon juice added.
Whitebeam liqueur. The Swiss herbalist Pastor Johann Künzle wrote that a fine, tonic liqueur could be made with whitebeam fruit (Mehlbeeren). The berries are crushed, then mixed with distilled alcohol (Feinsprit), preferably in a large jar. Some balm leaves (Mellissenblatter) are added to give it a distinctive flavour. The jar is tightly closed and placed for about 8 days in the sun, after which the liquid is carefully filtered, diluted and sweetened to taste. Pastor Künzle recommended a glass of this liqueur before each meal and at bedtime (which sounds like a good route to alcoholism).
Whitebeam spirit. Loudon in Arboretum et fruticetum Brittanicum says a powerful spirit was distilled from the fruit and this is repeated by several other authors. I have not been able to find any spirit of this kind commercially available, except the reference to the eau de vie d’alisier blanc (q.v.).
Anderberg, A. & Anderberg, A-L. (2010) Den virtuella floren. Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Stockholm.
Bingley, William (1804) North Wales including its scenery, antiquities, customs etc. Vol I. T. H. Longman and O. Rees, London.
Bucknall, T. S. D. (1802) Nature of the Varieties of Engrafted Fruit-Trees. Transactions of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Volume XX: 144-167.
Calvel, Étienne (1831) Traité complet sur le pépinières. Librairie Universelle, Paris.
Cotgrave, Randle (1611) A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues. Adam Islip, London
Estienne, Charles (1586) L’agriculture et maison rustique. Paris.
Houbrechts, D. (1996) Daniëlles Bomenboek. Lannoo, Tielt, Belgium.
Loudon, J. C. (1838) Arboretum et Fruticetum Brittanicum. Published by the author, London http://books.google.com/books?id=p2YEAAAAQAAJ&printsec=titlepage&dq=editions:0N8eqf4BG_RjEKJIwNfh-n#PPP5,M1
Pennant, Thomas, [1883?] [Tours in Wales. Welsh] Hynafiaethau Cymreig : Teithiau yn Nghymru, sef cyfieithiad o'r "Tours in Wales.
Roeder, Charles (1903) Notes on food and drink in Lancashire and other northern counties. Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, Vol. XX, 1902
Treutter, Dieter (2010) Managing Phenol Contents in Crop Plants by Phytochemical Farming and Breeding—Visions and Constraints. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2010, 11, 807-857; doi:10.3390/ijms11030807 http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/11/3/807/pdf