The Wonderful World of Bitters
So lately, we have been working on an experiment in bitters. I keep getting asked…. “WD, what exactly are bitters and what are they good for?” So I thought I would take a few moments and talk about what they are, tell you about what bitters we are making, and give you a drink recipe or two to enjoy some bitters with.
Bitters have a foundation in history as medicinal cures for ailments ranging from stomach issues, to headaches. Some of the basic thought was correct as various herbs today are known to have positive effects on certain conditions but there was a time when the bitters were a veritable plethora of snake oil salesmen promising their particular brand as a cure-all for whatever ailed you.
Slowly the habitual adding of bitters to cocktails gave to the rise a widespread use and development of different types of bitters and a smorgasbord of cocktails utilizing them to choose from. In the US, this lasted until Prohibition came along and sadly the only survivor was the classic bitters, Angostura. Luckily, the same innovation and drive that is helping revive craft distilling is driving resurgence in the world of bitters, and we are all better off for it.
So what are bitters??
So Bitters are an alcoholic infusion or tincture of a combination of three types of components. The first is a bittering agent like quinine or gentian and this is where the name bitters is derived from. The second component is an aromatic element such as vanilla or cinnamon. The final component is sweetness to provide depth and base for the aromatics to work from. Depending on your goal, the proportions of these components will vary to produce the desired product.
How do you make them?
The basics of making bitters are using alcohol to macerate the various spices to draw out the essences of the spice and then blending them to meet a certain taste/flavor profile. There are discussions a plenty in the void of the internet as whether to macerate your spices together or should you do them individually and blend the resulting tinctures afterwards. There are even more discussions on what alcohols or strength of alcohol to use for maceration.
In my opinion, be a mad scientist and play with it till you get something you are proud of.
That’s what I am doing here at Three Brothers Whiskey. Late one night while mixing drinks, I had a moment of inspiration. A few weeks later, I have jars that look like something from a science fiction movie and how cool is that?
Ok, Ive got Bitters, Now what?
Well the what seems easy enough, you add them to a cocktail… If you have ever had a good old Manhattan then you probably had bitters (If you didn’t, the bartender should give you a free drink.)
It is simply matching the flavor profile of your bitters to a cocktail that is complimentary. To help you out, I have added a couple of classic recipes that I found on Dr Adams Bitters Blog. I hope you enjoy!
MANHATTAN COCKTAIL – Jerry Thomas (Bon Vivant’s Companion) – 1887
Take 2 dashes of Curacao or Maraschino
1 pony of rye whiskey
1 wine-glass of vermouth
3 dashes of Boker’s bitters
2 small lumps of ice
Shake up well, and strain into a claret glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass and serve. If the customer prefers it very sweet use also two dashes of gum syrup.
Variant on the classic Coffee Cocktail which was somewhat a misnomer as it contained no coffee or bitters
37.5ml / 1.25oz Buffalo Trace
37.5ml / 1.25oz Ruby Port
3 Dashes Dr. Heather Duncan’s Christmas Bitters
1 Whole egg
Barspoon vanilla syrup
Method: Add all ingredients to mixing glass and dry shake for five seconds. Fill with cubed ice and shake for a further 10 seconds.
Garnish: Fresh grated nutmeg
Notes: Perfect for winter or after-dinner
I hope you enjoy!
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