Byrrh is an aromatised wine apéritif made of red wine, mistelle, and quinine. Created in 1866 and a trademark since 1873, it was popular as a French apéritif. With its marketing and reputation as a “hygienic drink”, Byrrh sold well in the early 20th century. It was even exported, despite the similarity of its name to “beer”, complicating sales in English- and German-language speaking regions.
Brothers Pallade and Simon Violet, itinerant drapers from Thuir (France), decided to take advantage of the wine fever in the region to develop an apéritif wine flavoured with cinchona. They mixed dry wines and mistelles and initially marketed the resulting product as a health drink or tonic. This was because the local apéritif producers were displeased about competition with their established brands. Rebranding the brothers’ aperitif as a health drink got around this problem, and Byrrh was sold in pharmacies.
The Second World War initiated the decline of Byrrh. Aided by tax benefits, natural sweet wines such as Banyuls, Muscat de Frontignan, and Rivesaltes superseded Byrrh, which went out of fashion.
In 1977, the family business, divided by strife, was acquired by Pernod-Ricard who still makes the drink at its facility in Thuir near Perpignan, part of which was designed by Gustave Eiffel.