Branch Water

Branch Water

WARREN BOBROW grew up on a biodynamic farm in Morristown, New Jersey. He is a reluctant cocktail/wine writer and a former trained chef/saucier.

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Photo credit: Warren Bobrow
I first learned about branch water, or branch as it was called, from my governess, Estelle Ellis.  She and her husband were from Georgia.  She’s gone now, but my memories of her are quite vivid.  She taught me how to cook, not by telling me but by showing.  She was very kind to me and I still honor her memory by retelling her culinary stories that I learned in the kitchen of my grandparents’ “big house,” where I spent much time as a child.

She held the tenets of the older and slower ways near and dear to her, evidenced by the smile that came through in the way she spoke about ingredients, the ancient cast iron pans she used in cooking, and especially the way she took a cool glass of locally gathered branch for good health.  She believed that branch was life-giving.  Everything in her kitchen had a meaning, especially when it came to the flavors and aromas of times gone by.  Branch was a part of my childhood as much as her peach pies made with fresh peaches from my grandparents’ orchard.

There was a patient cadence to the way Estelle spoke- the words that she chose and the descriptions of the way things ought to taste have resonated in my mind since I was a boy.  In a few words there were meanings for everything in life.  She used to tell me that it was time to “put-up” fruits for the long winter months in NJ.  The apples were made into applesauce, and some made their way into the winter as Apple Jack.  The peaches that didn’t make it into a lard-crusted pie were soaked in strong southern whiskey for a late night nip after the day’s chores were finished. This woman took care of my family in a way that is lost to time.  She taught me lessons by using ingredients so fresh that the dew hadn’t even begun to be absorbed by the flesh of the fruit.

She would add a bit of this locally gathered water to a drink- correcting it.  Adding a bit of branch to a glass of Bourbon, as I learned in later years, connects that specific drink in your hand to the past.

What is branch and where does it come from?

Branch- by nature of its provenance is sweet water.  Perhaps the definition is the nature of the Branch itself.  We all idolize the purity of a hidden spring that only exists in our dreams.  Branch is the liquid sweetness that flows unhindered from the ground.

Branch can sometimes be seen oozing up and evaporating immediately when it hits the air or it can make a cheerful bubbling sound as it bursts forth. Sometimes the branch erupts from the earth as a gurgle, almost like a belly laugh.

Branch can also be as kind and gentle as a bedtime story.

To truly enjoy branch you must capture it in the place where it comes up from the earth.

The spring up near our home is located in a spirit-filled place formerly inhabited by George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.  Estelle told me about this spring, it was where she gathered her Branch.  To get to the spring you must walk down the ancient camp roads- it’s over there a bit, by the base of that long gone oak tree.  You can tell there was a giant tree at one time by the number of smaller trees emanating out into the forest.  Its progeny has spread throughout the woods and their roots still feed a sweet vanilla flavor into the earth.

The water bubbles up to ground level meeting the air in a hushed flurry of activity, for this well is an artesian well.

The branch that flows from this spot tastes as sweet as cotton candy on the first day of the state fair!

How would it taste with a tin bucket of the White Dog? A splash or two of branch in a pail of freshly drawn white whisky is illuminating to say the least. The sweetness it emits meets the fire from the freshly drawn whiskey and makes a carousel dance around on your tongue.  Purists may scoff at cutting whiskey with water- but it’s the way I like to drink it. And you don’t use very much.

A Branch Water Cocktail

Take some of that really old Bourbon that you’ve been saving for a special occasion down from the top shelf.  Carefully open the bottle and pour it into your grandfather’s favorite glass that you keep away from curious hands.  Visit the hidden spring with your bottle and glass in hand and gently scoop a bit of the cool branch into your hand just as it emanates from the ground.  Moisten your fingers in this water, feel the minerals in it – rough against your hand.  Taste some of the sweet water in its cool, pure state, precious like fine jewels.  Now, please scatter just enough of the branch that fits between your thumb and forefinger over your glass of Bourbon.

Contemplate your ancient cocktail, sipping with reverence and passion.  Take another sip and roll it around on your tongue.  Swallow it slowly, taking in lots of air while you taste it.  This is important because certain environmental influences are as important as the flavor of the branch mixing with your Bourbon.  If it’s a day in the fall and you’re alone in the forest, crunching your feet through the leaves, you can almost taste this aroma in the air.  Aroma absolutely changes the way you perceive flavor through memory so take an aromatic note of the place while you sip cocktail and remember.

Gently slurp this precious brown liquid through your lips and smile.

And after you finish drinking, think of Estelle with her glass of branch and a slice of warm peach pie at the ready.