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Acquired taste" from aquavit to grappa, some foreign drinks require a little getting used to.

No one said it would be love at first sip. Not when the drink is grappa, bitters or aquavit, three curiously different foreign spirits. But then, how many of us fell in love with our first sip of espresso or taste of a garlic-buttered snail?

It may take several sips to appreciate grappa, the new "in" bi-coastal drink. An Italian brandy, grappa is distilled from grape skins and seeds. Intense and fiery, traditional grappa is a rustic drink, while the new grappas are smoother and more polished. Clear in color, some grappas are simple in taste, others, like those from Ceretto, Bruno Giacosa and Nonino, have an intriguing complexity. This former "poor man's drink" costs $50 to $150 a bottle.

Bitters are just what the name implies - bitter. They are also pungent, refreshing and cooling, but sometimes have a sweet undertone. Bitters are made by steeping a mix of 30 to 40 herbs, roots, flowers, plants and fruits in an alcohol base.

Some bitters are more bitter than others, which is why they are divided into those that are poured by the ounce and those that are added by the drop. Campari, one of the most popular bitters, is poured by the ounce, and often served with fruit juice, club soda or tonic, or mixed with sweet vermouth, white wine and ginger ale. This wine-based aperitif is also enjoyed by itself on the rocks. It retails for about $13 a bottle.

Trinidadian-made Angostura is the most renowned of the bitters measured in drops. Highly concentrated and pungent, it has a rum base. By last count, Angostura was included in more than 100 drinks, and sells for about $5 per bottle.

Aquavit, the clear Scandinavian spirit distilled from grain or potatoes, is most often flavored with caraway and other aromatic seeds. Its name is a contraction of agua vitae, or "water of life," though it may taste more like the fire of life. It retails for $15 to $40. Two readily available brands are Aalborg from Denmark and O.P. Anderson of Sweden.
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Author:Fried, Eunice
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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