The recent hiatus of Unique Culinary Adventures resulted from the hurried constraints of a two week road trip back and forth between Baltimore and Tucson to attend the latter’s gem and mineral show. Before leaving, I’d hoped to do a post entitled One for the Road in which would be shared the preparation of a cocktail that I invented and call "Jake Slagle’s Tropical Itch." Happy now that my time ran out, I’m back home to share the particulars of a drink that should prove much more appropriate.
To make it, you need damiana liqueur, which to my experience is quite obscure, even though I understand it’s quite popular around Los Cabos. Where taste is concerned, the most comparable potion I can think of is Chartreuse, which is produced in France, and like damiana liqueur, is herbal based. You might even say that damiana liqueur is to the state of Baja in Mexico what Chartreuse is to the province of Dauphine in France. While Chartreuse is notorious for the psychoactive qualities brought to it by thujone, the active chemical in wormwood, the herb damiana has as much the reputation for being an aphrodisiac as any natural product available over the counter anywhere.
I first discovered that such a concoction as damiana liqueur actually existed upon spying and purchasing a bottle at a huge liquor store. Over the next two decades, I kept my eyes peeled, but never again encountered it anywhere. There was no way you could miss the statuesque bottle, which I had always interpreted to be a portrayal of the Buddha. Only recently did I learn from the producer’s web site that the intended representation was of a pregnant woman.
Fast forward twenty years to a visit to Tucson during 2001. At a local bar, I was able to order, consume, and savor a concoction in which damiana liqueur was an ingredient. It was like drinking a margarita on the rocks where damiana liqueur was substituted for Triple Sec. Called Barrio Bitter Love, I spotted it on the cocktail menu at Barrio Food and Drink, at 135 South 6th Ave., a popular bistro housing one of Tucson’s best and most friendly bars.
Upon returning to Baltimore, my attempts at duplication were quite satisfying, though I questioned whether it could really be this simple. Were there any subtleties that I might have missed? Needless to say when returning this month to Tucson, I hotfooted it to Barrio Food and Drink. The experience convinced me more than ever that my efforts had been on track. Just to be sure and to give credit where due, once home, I placed a call and spoke with Barrio bartender Joe Casertano. He confirmed that indeed we were mixing the same drink the same way. Here’s the formula.
BARRIO BITTER LOVE
2 parts tequila
1 part damiana liqueur
1 part fresh lime juice
Shake with ice and strain into a salt rimmed rocks glass filled with ice cubes.